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Report: Mugabe-Tsvangerai coalition talks under way in Zimbabwe

Report: Mugabe-Tsvangerai coalition talks under way in Zimbabwe

A coalition government _ an idea previously dismissed by both Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's party and the opposition _ may again be under consideration to end the violence that has engulfed the country for two months.
Mugabe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he could not confirm reports Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change were discussing sharing power. In less than three weeks, Mugabe is scheduled to face Tsvangirai in a presidential runoff.
Mugabe may find it difficult to claim a mandate after a vote undermined by campaign violence, possibly making a coalition more palatable. Tsvangirai has repeatedly pledged to bring moderate members of Mugabe's party into his administration, but not Mugabe. The sticking point has long appeared to be ZANU-PF's insistence that Mugabe remain president of any unity government.
Tsvangirai beat Mugabe and two other candidates during the first round of presidential voting March 29, but official results did not give him the 50 percent plus one vote necessary to avoid a runoff.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF lost control of Parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980 in parliamentary voting held alongside the first round of presidential voting. Most seats went to candidates representing two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change that have since pledged to work together.
Tuesday, Matonga said with Zimbabwe's Parliament now divided, a coalition "could be good for Zimbabwe" and that such arrangements have worked elsewhere in Africa and Europe.
"Whoever wins the presidential election will need the other parties to be able to govern," Matonga said. "We need each other. But it has to be a Zimbabwean initiative. As Zimbabweans, we are capable of running out own affairs. But we need friends like South Africa."
Opposition spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said he could not comment on reports power sharing talks were under way.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has mediated stop-and-start talks between Mugabe's and Tsvangirai's parties. Mbeki has insisted on a media blackout, and his spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said the reports of renewed talks, which first appeared Tuesday in South Africa's respected Business Day newspaper, were untrue.
But Simba Makoni, a former member of Mugabe's party who finished third in recent presidential elections, said preliminary talks on sharing power are under way.
Makoni, speaking at a news conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday, said the talks could not yet be described as formal negotiations, but that he could "confirm ... that I know that there are communications between and among Zimbabwean leaders at various levels."
Makoni said he was not directly involved, but was "encouraging, facilitating and pushing that the talks do take place."
Tsvangirai's party, foreign diplomats in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwean and international human rights groups accuse Mugabe of unleashing violence against the opposition to ensure Mugabe wins the runoff. Zimbabwean government and party spokesmen repeatedly have denied the allegations.
Makoni said the violence since the first round would make it impossible for the planned June 27 runoff to be free and fair, or for it to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic crises.
Mugabe and Tsvangirai "should be sitting across a table, discussing the future of Zimbabwe," Makoni said. "We ... implore them to agree to work together."
Monday, an official in Zambia, the current chairman of the Southern African Development Community, said whatever the results of the runoff, it was unlikely they would be endorsed by both sides. Mediation then would be aimed at finding "some transitional arrangements," possibly a unity government, said Zambian Information Minister George Mulongoti.
Mbeki is mediating on behalf of the Southern African Development Community.
A declaration issued at the end of a U.S.-European Union summit Tuesday in Slovenia called on the government of Zimbabwe to immediately cease the "state-sponsored violence ... which is so hostile to the tenets of democracy and human rights."
"A free and fair presidential runoff is critical to the resolution of the ongoing crisis," the statement said.
Mugabe, in power since 1980, once was hailed as an independence hero who helped his nation develop. In recent years, though, he has been accused of clinging to power through violence, fraud and intimidation and ruining the economy with land reform policies that resulted in the sometime violent seizures of farms from whites. The twin crises are seen as destabilizing not just Zimbabwe, but neighbors like South Africa and Zambia.