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Southern African Leaders Attempt To Untangle Zimbabwe Impasse

  • Fazila Mahomed

Southern African leaders including newly installed President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa were continuing discussions late Monday in Harare with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai in a bid to rescue the country's power-sharing process, badly deadlocked over cabinet assignments.

Mr. Motlanthe and three other heads of state or government of the Southern African Development Community - Mozambican president Armando Guebuza, Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini and Angolan Foreign Minister Assuncao dos Anjos, who sit on SADC's troika or committee on politics, defense and security - heard briefings from Mr. Mugabe, Tsvangirai and crisis mediator Thabo Mbeki, Motlanthe's predecessor.

Following a break in the early evening, they were to take bearings as as committee, then meet with all of the principals to the negotiations in a round-table format, according to a Zimbabwean Ministry of Information spokesman who briefed reporters.

The assumption among observers was that SADC officials would be leaning heavily on all the principals to reach a compromise as to the allocation of ministerial portfolios in the national unity government envisioned in a Sept. 15 power-sharing accord. Analysts said the presence of Mr. Motlanthe, both as executive of Africa's economic powerhouse and current SADC chairman, might lend additional weight to SADC suasions.

For more on the proceedings in Harare, reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to correspondent Irwin Chifera, at the Rainbow Towers Hotel summit venue within the Harare International Conference Center.

Earlier Monday, police fired tear gas to disperse students, women and other protesters trying to approach the venue of the talks, loading demonstrators onto trucks along with bystanders waiting in line at nearby banks, as Fazila Mahomed reported.

Women's Coalition Chairwoman Emilia Motawu told VOA that scores of women were beaten and arrested. She said the women wanted to demonstrate peacefully calling for Zimbabwe's political leaders to put the interest of the country before politics.

Motawu said women wanted the impasse to end because their families are hungry.

The Zimbabwe NGO Rights Forum condemned the arrests and beatings.

Human Rights NGO Forum Executive Director Abel Chikomo said the heavy handed police response showed the ZANU-PF government is not acting in good faith.

Offering a political perspective, analyst John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe said the SADC troika needed to break the impasse or the talks would collapse.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...

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