Mugabe leaves for UN amid chaos

JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe headed for the UN General Assembly on Saturday, leaving his nation in limbo over a new power-sharing agreement with his political rivals.\r\n

Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are deadlocked on sharing key Cabinet posts, a sign that deep and bitter divisions are threatening a watershed unity government deal signed last Monday.

Talks between Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara on the appointment of ministers stalled Thursday, and the appointments were referred back to party negotiators who drafted the power-sharing deal along with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

Nelson Chamisa, a spokesperson for Tsvangirai, said the negotiators met on Thursday evening but soon adjourned.

"We are still poles apart. All the ministries are problematic. We haven’t agreed on anything," Chamisa said.

Under the pact, the 84-year-old Mugabe remains president and head of government, chairing the Cabinet. Tsvangirai, 56, is prime minister and head of a new Council of Ministers responsible for forming government policy. He is deputy chairperson of the Cabinet.

The agreement provides for 31 ministers – down from 50 – 15 nominated by Mugabe’s party, 13 by Tsvangirai and three by Mutambara.

Chamisa said key ministries in contention included home affairs, which directs police who have been accused of political violence. Mugabe remains military commander in chief, and the opposition is expected to insist on control of at least some security forces.

Chamisa said Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party also demanded control of the main "strategic" ministries, such as foreign affairs, finance and local government and information.

"There is a need for genuine give and take, not take and take and take," he said. "We will try and find areas where we can compromise."

No timetable for the negotiators to reconvene has been set and a new government cannot be announced until after Mugabe’s return, at least a week away. Party Vice President Joseph Msika, 85, is in charge in Mugabe’s absence.

The opposition has criticised Mugabe for failing to swear in Tsvangirai as prime minister before leaving for the United Nations. Because he is traveling on UN business, Mugabe is exempted from a US travel embargo against him and his party leaders.

"He couldn’t go away and leave Morgan Tsvangirai in charge. That would be disastrous for him," Chamisa said. "At the UN, he will assert his authority to the world."

Economic meltdown and chronic food shortages have plunged Zimbabwe into a worsening humanitarian crisis. Western governments poised to help with aid and investment seem to be waiting to see whether Tsvangirai will emerge as the main decision-maker.

The United States and Britain have been among Mugabe’s sharpest critics, accusing him of human rights abuses and ruining the economy. – Sapa-AP