Stop that, Tsvangirai throws gauntlet at Robert Mugabe

HARARE – Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to pull out of a power-sharing deal with President Robert Mugabe this week if latest Thabo Mbeki mediation fails.

Morgan Tsvangirai slammed an official government list published Saturday that gave all the main ministries, including defence, home and foreign affairs, justice, mining and land to Mugabe’s party. It allocated only lesser ministries to the Movement for Democratic Change, which won a slight parliamentary majority in elections earlier this year.

"An idiot wouldn’t accept that," Tsvangirai told a rally of 15 000 supporters. "That is not power sharing, it is power grabbing."

"Robert Mugabe, stop that because if you don’t, we have no right to be part of such an arrangement (government)," Tsvangirai said.

Tsvangirai won the first round of presidential elections in March but refused to take part in a runoff because of widespread violence against his supporters. A power-sharing agreement signed Sept. 15 gave Tsvangirai the post of Prime Minister but talks have since deadlocked over the allocation of Cabinet seats.

Tsvangirai said that if Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party retained the defense portfolio, which is in charge of the armed forces, then the Movement for Democratic Change must be given Home Affairs, which is responsible for the police.

"This is not negotiable," said Tsvangirai, whose supporters have suffered from police brutality.

He said he would continue to negotiate with good faith when Mediator Thabo Mbeki arrived Monday.

"But that doesn’t mean compromise for compromise sake," he said.

Mugabe’s party maintains that Mbeki only needs to mediate over one outstanding ministry – finance – and claims all other ministries are settled.

Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba defended the proposed Cabinet distribution, accusing the opposition of having close alliances with "rich friends" in the West that threatened Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, the official Sunday Mail said.

"The fact that rival political parties in Europe and America are all comfortable in partnering with the MDC here means the MDC is politically colourless except the colour that comes from outside," the paper quoted Charamba saying.

Under the power-sharing agreement, the opposition gets 16 Cabinet seats and Mugabe’s party gets 15, reflecting official results of parliamentary elections held in March.

Mugabe remains president and head of the Cabinet, and Tsvangirai, as prime minister, heads a council of ministers responsible for government policy that Mugabe does not attend.

Mbeki negotiated the power-sharing deal signed by Mugabe and Tsvangirai on September 15 but since then has been ousted as South African president leaving him with less diplomatic clout.

Meanwhile, the country’s humanitarian crisis is worsening as delays in forming the government have dashed hopes of an inflow of aid.

The UN World Food Program predicts a famine emergency with 45 percent of the country’s population needing food aid by early 2009.

Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, with annual inflation hovering around 231 million percent, has kept seeds, fertilizer and farming equipment out of the reach of many. The nation is facing chronic shortages of food, medicine, gasoline, currency, electricity and water.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has reported growing absenteeism of pupils in schools as teachers fail to get to work and school services collapse. – Sapa-AP