ZIM Talks hit skids

HARARE - Negotiators discussing how to build a power-sharing government to resolve Zimbabwe's deadly political crisis have broken off talks to consult their leaders after a disagreement over who should be president.

HARARE - Negotiators discussing how to build a power-sharing government to resolve Zimbabwe's deadly political crisis have broken off talks to consult their leaders after a disagreement over who should be president.

Opposition negotiators were unhappy with the government's insistence that Robert Mugabe remain president, with rival Morgan Tsvangirai serving as vice president, two officials close to the talks in South Africa said.

The talks - which began last Thursday - broke off on Monday, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations and a media blackout on the discussions.

Mugabe's chief negotiators, justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and social welfare minister Nicholas Goche, flew back on Monday to consult Mugabe, the officials said.

Tsvangirai, meanwhile, headed for Pretoria to meet his negotiators, another official in South Africa said on condition of anonymity.

It was unclear yesterday when - or if - talks would resume.

Tsvangirai's camp has maintained that it will not consider any government with Mugabe as president, and Mugabe already has two vice presidents who are little more than figureheads.

Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, had won most votes in the first round of elections in March - but not enough to avoid a runoff.

But he pulled out of a June runoff against Mugabe after months of escalating violence widely blamed on the government.

At least 120 opposition activists have been killed, thousands beaten and abducted, and tens of thousands of people driven from their homes, with entire villages torched for backing the opposition, according to rights group and the opposition.

Mugabe ran alone and declared himself winner of an election widely discredited internationally as a sham.

Tsvangirai has said any political settlement must recognise only his first-round victory.

Mugabe - who has held on to power for 28 years, surviving even his own Zanu-PF party's attempts to oust him - insists he should head any government.

A week ago, at their first meeting in 10 years, they agreed to have negotiators work out a powersharing government within two weeks.

In comments published yesterday information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu accused Western nations of trying to influence the outcome of the talks, and criticised the broadened sanctions that the US and European Union imposed last week. They now include more than 170 individuals and companies accused of supporting Mugabe's regime.

Ndlovu warned negotiators on state radio not to violate an agreement for a media blackout on the talks. - Sapa-AP

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