ZIM groups TALK

Zimbabwean government and opposition officials met in South Africa yesterday to try to find a way out of their country's deadly crisis, with the opposition pressing for an end to attacks.

Zimbabwean government and opposition officials met in South Africa yesterday to try to find a way out of their country's deadly crisis, with the opposition pressing for an end to attacks.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he sent a team to Pretoria, led by his top deputy Tendai Biti, not to open negotiations but to lay down conditions for talks. Chief among them is an end to violence blamed on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's supporters.

"At present the state-sanctioned violence and repressive legislation employed by the regime is designed to silence the Zimbabwean people," Tsvangirai said in a statement.

His Movement for Democratic Change is "committed to finding a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Zimbabwean crisis and we will take every opportunity to clarify our position and to allow the voice of the Zimbabwean people to be heard".

The opposition has said more than 90 of its supporters have been killed since Tsvangirai won a first round of presidential elections in March. Tsvangirai beat Mugabe and two other candidates, but did not win the 50% plus one vote necessary to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mugabe.

Zimbabwe's crisis has deepened since Mugabe claimed victory in a widely denounced June 27 presidential runoff in which he was the only candidate. Tsvangirai pulled out days before the race because of the violence.

Besides an end to the violence, opposition conditions for holding talks include a mediator to be appointed alongside President Thabo Mbeki, who has overseen talks on and off for more than a year.

The opposition has accused Mbeki of bias in Mugabe's favour.

Tsvangirai also called for the release of political prisoners, allowing humanitarian organisations to resume work in Zimbabwe and convening parliament.

Tsvangirai's supporters won control of parliament in legislative elections held alongside the presidential vote.

As president, Mugabe has to convene parliament.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lent her support yesterday to the opposition's stand on mediation. Sirleaf said Mbeki's efforts on behalf of the main regional group, the Southern African Development Community, should continue, but "we hope they will welcome another outside mediator to work with them," she said. - Sapa-AP

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