Leaders gather for summit

JOHANESBURG – Southern African leaders were under pressure to get tough with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as they gathered Saturday for a last-ditch effort to save a stalled power-sharing deal.

Ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — a regional security organ — were due to meet in Johannesburg, a day before their leaders hold talks with Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The emergency summit of the 15-nation bloc, which has traditionally been very divided on Zimbabwe, comes as Mugabe and Tsvangirai trade accusations of blame over the impasse.

The rivals agreed on 15 September on the outlines of a power-sharing accord that would keep 84-year-old Mugabe as president and make Tsvangirai the prime minister.

Bogged down by disagreements

Hailed as a step toward ending months of political turmoil and halting Zimbabwe’s descent into economic chaos, the deal became bogged down by disagreements over who will control the most powerful cabinet posts.

Zimbabwe’s state media, a mouthpiece of Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, blamed the opposition on Saturday for the deadlock and called on Mugabe to go ahead and appoint his new cabinet.

"Regrettably, the MDC-T (Tsvangirai) leadership, whose prevarication stalled previous rounds, is singing a different tune that appears designed to scupper tomorrow’s talks," the state-run Herald said on Saturday.

"We urge President Mugabe to exercise his constitutional prerogative by appointing cabinet as soon as possible."

The paper suggested the parties should commit to a Zanu-PF proposal, which it said had been endorsed by SADC, and share control of the home affairs ministry — the most controversial portofolio with control over police and internal security.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has accused Mugabe of handing all the key ministries to his own party.

"Ideally we want this process to be concluded but it might not be possible due to the attitude shown by Zanu-PF," party spokesperson Nelson Chamisa told AFP.

New-York based Human Rights Watch said regional leaders must get tough with the veteran president, or ask the United Nations to step in.

Ask the UN to intervene

"The regional leaders in SADC need to get tough on the party leader, Robert Mugabe, or ask the United Nations to intervene," said Africa Director Georgette Gagnon in a statement.

South Africa’s government came out strongly this week, warning it would take a harder stance with SADC leaders as the stalemate threatened regional stability.

"We believe South Africa and the region cannot be held to ransom by parties who are failing to reach agreement on the allocation of cabinet posts," government spokesperson Themba Maseko told reporters on Thursday.

As the unity accord teeters on the brink of collapse, the country’s economic decline worsens as Zimbabweans battle shortages of key food items.

HRW warned in its 47-page report that Zanu-PF continued to use Zimbabwe’s police and judicial system for political repression, estimating that 163 people had been killed in political violence since the country’s disputed March elections.

The polls saw Mugabe lose his majority in parliament for the first time since independence.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first-round presidential vote, but pulled out of a June run-off, accusing the regime of violence against his supporters that Amnesty International estimates left 180 dead.

Sapa