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Report: Mugabe set to form government

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader has insisted that he will not become prime minister until disputes are settled. There were signs Saturday that President Robert Mugabe would press ahead regardless.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader has insisted that he will not become prime minister in a government of national unity until disagreements are settled. There were signs Saturday that President Robert Mugabe would press ahead regardless.

The official Herald newspaper said that Mugabe, who has held power since 1980, was moving toward the "early realization" of a new government to end a monthslong power vacuum.

"President Mugabe has already started preparing an administration," the paper quoted government spokesman George Charamba as saying.

A power-sharing accord reached last September designated Mugabe as president and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister. Tsvangirai narrowly won the first round of presidential elections but refused to take part in a runoff because of violence against his supporters.

The accord has not been implemented because of disagreement on Cabinet posts. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is angry that Mugabe has earmarked all the key ministries for his party. It is holding out for control of the Home Affairs ministry — saying this is necessary to stop police violence against opposition supporters — and has rejected a proposal by mediators to split control of the ministry.

In a letter to Mugabe, Tsvangirai said it was "presumptuous" to conclude that his party accepted the allocation of ministers decided on by Mugabe.

Tsvangirai also told Mugabe that he would not agree to be sworn in as prime minister until parliament has passed a constitutional amendment providing for the new position and defining its responsibilities. The Herald printed extracts from the letter.

Tsvangirai's spokesman George Sibotshiwe told The Associated Press that that the letter was genuine. He said Tsvangirai had written both to Mugabe and to South Africa's president Kgalema Motlanthe, who is currently chairman of the southern African regional bloc, asking for a meeting.

Tsvangirai has been out of Zimbabwe for weeks. He previously said he couldn't return home because authorities hadn't given him a new passport. After a long delay, he received one in late December and Sibotshiwe said he planned to go back early this month.

Tsvangirai has also demanded the release of opposition supporters and human rights activists snatched from their homes in recent weeks and currently in detention.

Trumped-up charges?
These include Zimbabwe Peace Project leader Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted from her home early December. She and 31 others are due to appear before a magistrates' court on Monday accused of trying to topple Mugabe. The opposition says the charges are trumped-up.

Sibotshiwe said the ruling ZANU-PF party was not committed to dialogue.

"As far as we are concerned, there has been no movement on their part apart from the passport which is a minor issue," he said.

The Herald, which is a government mouthpiece, accused Tsvangirai of seeking to sabotage the power-sharing deal. It said Tsvangirai had demonstrated once again that he was a puppet of the United States, which declared before Christmas that it would not recognize a Zimbabwe government with Mugabe at the helm.

"What this means is that Tsvangirai has made it clear that he prioritizes Western voices over African sentiment," the Herald said in an editorial. "To this end, we urge President Mugabe to proceed with the formation of the envisaged inclusive Government regardless of whether Tsvangirai wants in or out."

The newspaper said that Mugabe on Wednesday met with the head of a small splinter opposition group to "map the way forward in the formation of the inclusive Government regardless of Mr. Tsvangirai's letter."

It said Mugabe had formally dismissed 12 ministers who lost their parliamentary seats in the last elections ahead of forming the new government.

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