Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday issued an ultimatum to President Robert Mugabe, saying 42 opposition and civic activists abducted by suspected state agents must be freed by Jan. 1 and that such seizures must halt, or Tsvangirai's formation of the Movement for Democratic Change will pull out of the power-sharing process.
In a statement delivered to reporters in Gaborone, Botswana, Tsvangirai denounced the Mugabe government for what he said was the imposition of “the worst kind of sanctions upon the people” of the country, turning Zimbabwe into a country where “poverty and disease thrive and people die” due to political and economic mismanagement.
Tsvangirai said the MDC “can no longer sit at the same negotiating table with a party that is abducting our members, and other innocent civilians, and refusing to produce any of them before a court of law.”
If such abductions do not cease, and if the 42 people whom he said are being held by state security organizations or agents are not released by Jan. 1, he would ask his party's National Council for a resolution cutting off negotiations with Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
Those missing include Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko, among the missing for more than two weeks, and two members of her staff. Her organization compiled and published comprehensive data on political violence and human rights violations.
Tsvangirai called for new elections if a national unity government is not put in place soon. A power-sharing agreement signed Sept. 15 by both formations of the MDC and ZANU-PF has failed to yield the envisioned national unity government as the parties have wrangled over the distribution of cabinet posts and other key government positions.
Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya of Harare told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the ultimatum from Tsvangirai was long overdue.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mugabe officially opened the ZANU-PF annual national conference vowing not to step down despite intense and mounting international pressure.
Addressing thousands of supporters in Bindura, Mashonaland West, Mr. Mugabe declared that "Zimbabwe is mine", and said he was not intimidated by calls to step down.
Earlier Friday, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden as a Nordic block added their voice to the rising chorus of nations and leaders demanding he step down in light of the deepening humanitarian crisis gripping the country. A cholera epidemic has claimed, 1,123 lives, and millions of Zimbabweans depend on food aid to stave off starvation.
Mr. Mugabe said he had invited the leaders of the two MDC formations to join a unity government, but added he was not sure whether the proposal would work. He accused the MDC leaders of marking time in hopes that his administration will collapse.
ZANU-PF information committee member Chris Mutsvangwa said the party is committed to the negotiations and that the ZANU-PF conference is crucial for the nation.
National Constitutional Assembly Director Earnest Mudzengi said Mugabe’s vow not to step down under international pressure has become his trademark.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...