Talks resume to save Zimbabwe deal

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's opposition leader and president, struggling for control of key Cabinet posts, joined southern African leaders Monday for a mini-summit called to settle the country's power-sharing deal.

The deal signed September 15 has stalled over how to share government ministries among President Robert Mugabe’s party, Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and a smaller opposition group. Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, of trying to hold on to too many of the most powerful posts.

Tsvangirai did not attend a first round of talks in Swaziland last week after authorities in Harare failed to issue him a new passport. He instead received an emergency travel document his party described as an insult and proof that Mugabe was not ready to treat the opposition as equal partners.

Tsvangirai is scheduled to deliver a position paper demanding an equal share of the most powerful ministries.

One of the key ministries still in dispute is the home affairs ministry in charge of the police. Mugabe claimed control of the police ministry when he unilaterally published a Cabinet list October 11.

Tsvangirai has been under intense pressure from within his party not to yield control of police, blamed for some of the political violence against his supporters surrounding elections in March and June.  At weekend rallies, he accused Mugabe of negotiating in bad faith, citing the refusal to renew his passport.

"There is nothing wrong with the deal but the problem is Mugabe wants to grab all key ministries. I will not go in if I am not given the tools to perform," Tsvangirai told supporters Saturday.

Leaders from South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland opened their meeting at a Harare hotel Monday with Mugabe, Tsvangirai, and the smaller group’s leader Arthur Mutambara. Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland make up the Southern Africa Development Community troika, a special committee on politics, defense and security.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki attended Monday’s meeting as the mediator who brokered the deal, and current South African President Kaglema Motlanthe as the current SADC chair. 

Mozambique President Armando Guebeza was expected to chair Monday’s talks instead of King Mswati of Swaziland, who was not scheduled to travel to Harare because of other commitments, The Herald state-run newspaper reported.

Mugabe’s chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa described Monday’s talks as "probably the last chance for a settlement," The Herald, a government mouthpiece, reported.

The talks with regional leaders were expected to "end the saga (and) bring finality one way or the other so that the country can move forward," he said.

An agreement would allow politicians to turn their attention to the nation’s economic meltdown, which has led to chronic shortages of food, gasoline and most basic goods; daily outages of power and water; and the collapse of health and education services.

Zimbabweans are struggling with the world’s highest official inflation rate of 231 million percent. The U.N. predicts half the population will need food aid by next year.

A doctors group on Sunday called for urgent action to repair water and sewage systems to avert a cholera epidemic in upcoming seasonal rains. It reported at least 120 preventable deaths across the county this year from cholera. At least 27 people have died in the past month. 

"The government has grossly underestimated the impact that infrastructure breakdown is having on public health," said the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights in a statement.

In a reflection of inflation, the main state daily newspaper cost 10 Zimbabwe dollars shortly before the power sharing deal was signed. Monday’s edition cost 20,000 Zimbabwe dollars, the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents (40 euro cents) at the dominant black market exchange rate