Tsvangirai hopeful ahead of summit

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said on Thursday he was hopeful a regional summit next week could end the deadlock in power-sharing talks with President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirai and Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal last September to try to end a post-election crisis, but the pact appears to be unravelling over control of cabinet posts.

On Monday, regional leaders failed to nudge the two parties to form a government but called for a special summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in South Africa on January 26 in another effort to break the deadlock.

Similar meetings have failed to persuade the rivals to agree to implement the pact, which is seen by many as the best chance of rescuing Zimbabwe’s economy and easing a humanitarian crisis, including a cholera outbreak that U.N. agencies say has killed nearly 2,800 people out of 48,623 cases.

"I hope that if SADC leaders approach the problem with an objective point of view, I’m sure we should be able to resolve the matter," Tsvangirai told reporters after touring a cholera treatment centre in a Harare suburb. "I am anxious that we resolve these issues and form the government."

But Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was cautious and stuck to his earlier demands: "I’m sure that everyone who is looking at this dispute may conclude that the MDC is obstructionist. No, we’re not."

"The issues that we keep on insisting on must be resolved, have to be resolved. We have a compelling case for the resolution of the two remaining issues."

Tsvangirai said the crucial issues were the equitable allocation of cabinet positions and provincial governorships, and the release of opposition supporters and human rights activists. 

He said the cholera epidemic highlighted the urgent need for a functional government. "This suffering must end, we’ll do everything in our power to make sure that … we take the responsibility to fix these problems for the good of the nation and the good of the people," Tsvangirai said.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of a presidential election last March, but failed to get enough votes to avoid a run-off vote eventually won by Mugabe after Tsvangirai pulled out citing violence against his supporters.

Critics say Mugabe’s policies, such as the seizure of white-owned farms, have ruined Zimbabwe’s economy, but the ruler — in power since independence from Britain in 1980 — blames Western sanctions for the crisis.

Mugabe’s top army commander said Zimbabwe was ready to thwart any invasion by Western forces to topple the embattled government, a state daily newspaper reported on Thursday. Reuters