Tsvangirai threatens to quit talks with Robert Mugabe
GABORONE – Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Friday he would ask for the suspension of power-sharing talks if Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party failed to stop persecuting political opponents.
"The MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) can no longer sit at the same negotiating table with a party that is abducting our members, and other innocent civilians, and refusing to produce any of them before a court of law," Tsvangirai told a press conference in Gaborone.
"If these abductions do not cease immediately, and if all the abductees are not released or charged in a court of law by January 1, 2009, I will be asking the MDC’s National Council to pass a resolution to suspend all negotiations and contact with Zanu PF."
In another report Robert Mugabe has said African nations lack the courage to use military force to oust his government, the state-run Herald newspaper reported on Friday.
The comment, made during a high-level meeting of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party on Thursday, came amid growing international pressure on the Zimbabwean leader, whose critics say his policies have wrecked the economy.
Botswana’s foreign minister and Kenya’s prime minister are among those in Africa who have called for an end to his 28-year rule.
"How could African leaders ever topple Robert Mugabe, organise an army to come? It is not easy," the newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying in his party’s central committee meeting.
"I do not know of any African country that is brave enough to do that."
Most of Zimbabwe’s neighbours reject military intervention in Zimbabwe. South Africa, the regional powerhouse, has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the idea. Western countries have urged Mugabe to step down but have not gone so far as to openly support using force.
Many African leaders are reluctant to confront Mugabe, still viewed as a liberation-era hero on much of the continent. But Zimbabwe’s deepening economic and humanitarian crisis and Mugabe’s poor human rights record has weakened African support.
The United Nations reported that the death toll from a cholera epidemic had risen to 1,123 and that 20,896 people had been infected with the easily preventable and treatable disease as of Thursday.
South Africa’s ANC-led government has continued to back the regional SADC group’s efforts to mediate an end to the crisis. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is leading the mediation of the power-sharing talks.
Mugabe, 84, agreed to share power with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in September, raising hopes that a unity government could reverse the country’s economic meltdown and rebuild basic services.
Inflation in Zimbabwe has spiralled out of control. Prices are doubling every 24 hours and unemployment is above 80 percent. Millions have fled to South Africa and neighbouring countries is search of work and food.
Zimbabwe’s central bank on Friday introduced a 10 billion dollar banknote in an effort to ease cash shortages. The new 10 billion dollar note is worth $20 on the thriving foreign currency black market.
Critics blame the economic meltdown on mismanagement by Mugabe’s government, especially the seizure and redistribution of thousands of white-owned farms. The country’s agricultural sector has fallen into ruin under the policy.
The Zimbabwean leader, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, says Western sanctions are the cause of the economic crisis.
Negotiations between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change are deadlocked over who should control key ministries, and there are growing fears the agreement will unravel and lead to violence.
Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a March presidential election but without an absolute majority. He pulled out of the run-off in June, saying scores of his supporters had been killed.