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Little Optimism For Crucial Zimbabwe Negotiations

Negotiators from Zimbabwe's three political parties are meeting in South Africa to try to reach agreement on an amendment to the constitution that would enable the formation of a government of national unity. Peta Thornycroft, reporting from Harare, says in the streets of the capital many people are aware that this is a crucial make or break round of negotiations.

In Harare's streets, many people know that a constitutional amendment is necessary to enable formation of a government of national unity. If it is agreed upon, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai will become prime minister of Zimbabwe.

Negotiators in South Africa are faced with two amendments, one written by the ministry of justice and one by Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC.

The two are very different and this gap, analysts say, will be difficult to overcome, as the amendment has to accurately cover the Global Political Agreement signed on September 15 by leaders of the three parliamentary parties, Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara.

Lawyers say that the 37-page MDC document is a well crafted piece of legislation which widens the democratic scope of the agreement, and addresses many of its imperfections.

But they warn, some of the clauses, particularly those involving human rights, were not agreed by President Robert Mugabe during negotiations, and, therefore are likely to be rejected again by Mr. Mugabe's negotiators.

In the streets of Harare, many people say they know these negotiations are crucial.

One professional man said while these negotiations represent hope, if the talks fail he believes the MDC will have to become more militant.

"The next round of talks is a ray of light of hope to the ordinary Zimbabwean," he said. "This comes back to the core principles of the MDC of narrowing their options of removing the dictator through democratic means. Mugabe knows he cannot go it alone."

"The people are frustrated. They have been stretched to the limit. It needs a stimuli to put light into the frustrations of the people and that stimuli can only come about by the people in the MDC presidium to mobilize the people, in the bank queues everywhere, the people are ripe for change," he added.

A clerk at a security company said that these talks were crucial Zimbabweans.

"I think this should be the last round of talks, and if they are not going to agree upon that amendment, then I don't think that it will be of any use to have any other talks," the clerk said.

She was gloomy about the future should the talks on the amendment fail and said Zimbabweans would then have to wait until Mr. Mugabe, who is nearly 85, died.

"It means we are going to suffer more than we are suffering right now if the UN is not going to do anything. If nature doesn't take its course we are going to die," she said. "We don't want to die and we don't want to fight anyone. Because we thought that he was going to listen to reason on his own, and now we don't know what to do."

If these talks fail to produce a constitutional amendment there will then be no basis for establishing a government of national unity.

As a result, several people said they may have to go to war to end Mr. Mugabe's rule.

A street vendor selling vouchers for mobile phones said people would have to change tactics and fight for a new government.

"People are dying and the issue of having another round of talks should come to an end and so many people are complaining about the credibility of the talks," the vendor noted. "Mugabe needs a militant approach if he fails the dialogue. The suffering and the crisis in Zimbabwe is unprecedented. This must come to an end as soon as possible."

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa cautioned against any optimism about the outcome of the talks until all the party's demands were met.

If the talks fail, no one is sure what the next step will be. If they succeed then Mr. Tsvangirai will be sworn into office. The amendment will be presented before parliament a month later where it will voted on. A two-thirds majority is needed in the parliament for a transitional government of national unity to be a reality.