Image: Mugabe and military
AP
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, center right, is seen atop an army vehicle, right, as he arrives for Armed Forces Day celebrations, in Harare on Tuesday. Mugabe praised the country's army for maintaining peace in the country and decorated senior military officials who have supported him in his bid to cling to power.
updated 8/12/2008 8:23:25 PM ET 2008-08-13T00:23:25

Confusion and consternation reigned at the end of three days of power-sharing talks for Zimbabwe on Tuesday after reports circulated that President Robert Mugabe and a breakaway opposition leader had agreed on a power-sharing deal.

If confirmed, the agreement would exclude Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the main Movement for Democratic Change. He won the first round of presidential elections in March but boycotted the runoff to protest widespread violence against opposition supporters.

It would also likely prompt protests from the West — and also some African governments — for allowing the 84-year-old Mugabe to cling to his increasingly autocratic 28-year reign that has driven his once thriving nation to economic ruin.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who mediated the talks, remained in the Harare hotel and made no comment to reporters.

Welshman Ncube, spokesman for the splinter faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, denied reports that his boss, Arthur Mutambara, had signed an accord with Mugabe.

"It's a lie," he said.

Earlier, officials from the ruling party and the main opposition movement led by Tsvangirai said that Mugabe and Mutambara had reached an agreement. They spoke on condition of anonymity because mediator Mbeki has insisted on confidentiality.

'Talks will never collapse'
Mutambara himself would not comment before Mbeki issued a statement. But his body language exuded confidence as he left three days of negotiations — in contrast to Tsvangirai who looked bleak.

Tsvangirai's faction has 100 seats in Parliament, ahead of the ruling ZANU-PF's 99. Mutambara's faction holds ten. He agreed to form a parliamentary alliance with Tsvangirai after the March elections, but if he now switches allegiances, it will give the majority to Mugabe's party. However, it is uncertain whether all his lawmakers will follow him into the ZANUA-PF fold.

Mugabe won the run-off of Zimbabwe's presidential elections after Tsvangirai boycotted it to protest widespread violence. Tsvangirai won the first round, though not by an outright majority.

Mugabe brushed off questions as he left the hotel in the capital Harare after three days of grueling talks, saying: "I'm sleepy."

But he denied that the negotiations had failed. "Talks will never collapse as long as we have tongues," he said.

The key stumbling block has been how much power Mugabe is willing to cede to the opposition movement.

Tsvangirai has said he could work with moderates from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, but not with Mugabe.

ZANU-PF and powerful police and army generals of the Joint Operational Command insist Mugabe must remain president. His security and police chiefs reportedly were worried that he would make too many concessions at the power-sharing negotiations and strip them of their privileges — and potentially their protection from prosecution.

Control over police and army a stumbling block
One of the contentious issues was whether ZANU-PF would retain control over the police and army in any power-sharing formula.

Mugabe and ZANU-PF have ruled Zimbabwe since the country gained independence in 1980. But his land reform policies that have laid waste to the country's once-thriving agricultural sector and he has resorted to repression to hold on to pwer.

Zimbabwe now has the world's highest rate of inflation, the majority of the population is unemployed and basic goods and food hard to find.

Mutambara said he would give a news conference Wednesday. There have been rumors that Mutambara might break ranks with Tsvangirai in return for a government post. He was welcomed as a "guest" at a ceremony held by Mugabe on Monday.

He was briefly arrested earlier this year for criticizing Mugabe but since then seems to have made amends.

At a ceremony marking Armed Forces Day on Tuesday, Mugabe praised the military and distributed medals to retired and serving military officers.

"It is a result of the alert, vigilant and patriotic manner they have conducted their day-to-day duties," he said, promising more pay hikes and housing for soldiers.

Independent monitors and human rights activists accuse the military of being implicated in violence and intimidation targeting opposition supporters.

Human Rights Watch accused the ruling party and its allies of involvement in the killings of at least 163 people, and the beatings and torture of more than 5,000 others since the March elections.

The group said 32 opposition supporters have been killed since the June 27 runoff, and two since ZANU-PF and the opposition signed the memorandum of understanding that paved the way for negotiations on a power-sharing government.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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