Zimbabwe's opposition says it will not accept a power-sharing arrangement with the ruling party, and called for the immediate and unconditional resignation of President Robert Mugabe. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai continues planning for mass protest action due to begin next week.
Many political analysts say the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has taken them by surprise with the strong words and refusal to share power.
Mr. Tsvangirai said Tuesday his party will not participate in a power-sharing arrangement with President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party. He said the only solution to Zimbabwe's current economic and political crisis is the president's resignation, and new elections within 90 days, as required by the constitution.
A host of intermediaries and would-be facilitators have been working for weeks on the possibility of establishing a transitional authority of ruling and opposition party officials that would plan fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.
The main stumbling block has been President Mugabe's refusal to leave office. He has urged discussion of a future leadership succession within his party, but the government says the 79-year-old president intends to serve out his current term, which ends in 2008.
During a visit to Harare earlier this month, the presidents of Nigeria, Malawi and South Africa urged Mr. Mugabe to open talks with the opposition. But nothing has happened since then.
Many analysts expected those talks might lead to some sort of power-sharing arrangement. But the analysts now believe the moment of opportunity has passed, with Mr. Tsvangirai's statement that he will not join a Zanu PF government.
Human rights lawyer and political commentator Brian Kagoro calls Mr. Tsvangirai's statement irrational populist politicking designed to rally the poor, who have suffered under the Mugabe government.
Mr. Tsvangirai made his statement to foreign diplomats just a few days before the opposition plans to embark on a series of mass action protests.
In Harare, people are heeding an opposition call for prayers in advance of the mass actions. Opposition supporters are stopping on the streets daily at 1:00 p.m. to pray for strength.
The anti-government newspaper The Daily News says the protest plan is critical to the future of the opposition. The newspaper says if mass action fails, it will be the end of the Movement for Democratic Change.
Others say the opposition may not succeed with mass demonstrations immediately, but that they will likely grow.
The question on everyone's minds is what role the army and police will play during the next few weeks. No political analysts are prepared to predict the outcome of the planned series of protests, amid the current heightened political tension.