Power-Sharing Talks Dissolve In Zimbabwe

Power-sharing talks to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe have broken off. According to reports, the deadlock is over Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's insistence that he remain president and that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai accept one of three vice presidential posts in his government.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The president of South Africa is rejecting suggestions that negotiations aimed at power sharing in Zimbabwe are in trouble. Thabo Mbeki is mediating the talks in South Africa between Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, and the opposition. Those talks began last week and the idea was - and is - to fix a presidential election that outside observers say was neither free nor fair and where members of the opposition were beaten and killed. The hope for a solution is a form of a government of national unity.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is monitoring the talks and joins me now to bring us an update. And so what else is President Thabo Mbeki saying about these talks?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Well, to quote him specifically, Renee, he's saying the negotiators are negotiating. As you know, they have been meeting here now for a number of days and they're continuing to do that. The talks are doing very well and he said that they would probably soon be adjourned, so that the negotiators could go and consult their bosses, President Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

MONTAGNE: Fill us in on some of what's being asked as much as you can. I know there's a media blackout there, but what is, for instance, the opposition's position here?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, as you say, this secrecy over these talks means that nobody can speak officially because they've agreed not to talk. But certainly it seems that the opposition wants journalists to know that it's not happy with how things are to date. And we're hearing that the opposition feels insulted because President Mugabe's negotiators are suggesting that Morgan Tsvangirai, who more or less claims that he is the duly elected president, that he won the first round of voting, which was the only credible round of voting, that they're offering him the position of third vice president. That's a purely ceremonial role. President Mugabe already has two figurehead vice presidents. So the opposition is saying absolutely not, and I think they want us to know that.

MONTAGNE: And Robert Mugabe's party, what is it saying? I mean basically as you describe it, they're suggesting that Robert Mugabe stay on as president and have all the power.

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, that's what - that's the indication we're getting, but this is really mainly from the opposition. The government - or President Mugabe's party's negotiators, the justice minister and another, are keeping mum. They haven't said a thing.

MONTAGNE: Now, Ofeibea, it was just a week ago that there was considerable optimism about this process. There was a meeting, unprecedented in many ways, a handshake between President Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. These had been bitter enemies for a long time. What about that optimism?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. I think it was a moment of hope for many Zimbabweans, because it's not just a political and electoral crisis they're going through; it's also an economic crisis, Renee. This is a country where inflation is running at goodness knows what hundreds of thousands. I mean they've just issued a new banknote worth a hundred billion Zimbabwe dollars. What does it buy? Not even a loaf of bread. So trying to get their political leaders to talk and to resolve the crises in the country has become paramount for the Zimbabwean people, and now here they look at these negotiations that we were told were going to be wrapped up within two weeks, ostensibly going wrong. Although the chief mediator, President Thabo Mbeki, says they're going swimmingly.

It's not a good moment for Zimbabweans. I'm sure they'll be holding their breath and thinking, whew, we really wish that our political leaders could get it right so that economically we can start getting it right in this country.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks very much. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton following efforts to resolve Zimbabwe's political crisis. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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