MDC vows to resist pressure to play second fiddle to Robert Mugabe

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Zimbabwe's opposition vowed to resist any compromise that would leave it sidelined in a unity government with President Robert Mugabe's party at new talks due to start on Tuesday.

Negotiators from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and a breakaway MDC faction are to meet mediator Thabo Mbeki in South Africa to discuss a draft constitutional amendment.

The amendment would allow a new government to be formed under a September 15 power-sharing deal with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister, but the parties are still arguing over the wording and about who should control which ministries.

Pressure is growing on the rival parties to strike a deal as a humanitarian crisis deepens and regional leaders worry about a cholera outbreak that has killed almost 300 and sent hundreds streaming into South Africa to seek treatment.

But the MDC said it would resist any attempt to force it to accept a compromise and wants the talks to address its demands for control of key government posts.

"For us, it is better that we take time to reach an agreement than to have an agreement that will not work or last," MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said. "For us, it is better to have a longer gestation period and a healthy baby than an inducement than ends in abortion."

Many in the southern African country hope a deal will usher in a new government to end a crippling economic crisis that has seen official inflation soar to 231 million percent. Inflation is thought to be even higher, with some estimating that prices of basic goods are doubling every 24 hours.

The MDC has refused to enter government, accusing ZANU-PF of trying to take the most powerful ministries and freeze it out in violation of the power-sharing deal.

The agreement may unravel completely if Mugabe names a cabinet without MDC approval, jeopardising what is seen as the best chance of reversing a decade of economic collapse.

The opposition also said on Tuesday the talks were being threatened by the Mugabe government’s failure to respect citizen’s rights under the terms of the power-sharing agreement.

The MDC said its lawyers had appealed to the attorney-general for the urgent release of 15 party activists it said were arrested in pre-dawn raids in a small farming town in about a month ago.

The party said the state’s failure to produce the activists in court was a "patent violation" of the deal.

DISASTER

Food shortages and hyperinflation have led millions of Zimbabweans to flee their country. A new outbreak of anthrax in southwestern Zimbabwe has killed two people and 150 animals in the last two weeks, a senior government official said.

Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other prominent world figures said on Monday Zimbabwe was close to a humanitarian disaster and urged Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders to put more pressure on Mugabe and the MDC to break the impasse.

Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and human rights campaigner Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, part of a group called the Elders, were barred from entering Zimbabwe last weekend on a humanitarian visit. The government said the trip was unnecessary and denied them visas.

Zimbabwe’s official Herald newspaper said the Elders were part of a U.S and British-led "grand plan" to overthrow Mugabe, calling them a "Trojan horse for the politics of regime change".

"The so-called ‘Elders’ are a creature of pro-Labour British corporate interests," The Herald said, according to its website. "There is nothing elderly about them."