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Zimbabwe Ruling Party Leaders Meet on Elections

Leaders of Zimbabwe's ruling party met Friday to decide whether President Robert Mugabe should stand for reelection next year. There are reports that some party leaders believe the 83-year-old president should retire but Mr. Mugabe has been buoyed by an expression of support from southern African leaders. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

The meeting by the Central Committee of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party followed a call Thursday by southern African leaders in Tanzania for Western governments to lift all sanctions against Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's state-owned media hailed the statement as a victory for Mr. Mugabe, who has come under international criticism in recent weeks for the arrest and beating of dozens of opposition leaders.

The secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, said the African leaders ignored the real crisis in Zimbabwe, which he said is over unemployment, food shortages, corruption and political repression.

"There was a game of ping-pong, or table tennis. The loser there was the Zimbabwean people. And I think that everyone is oblivious to the need for a democratic, peaceful settlement to Zimbabwe," he said.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who chaired Thursday's summit, acknowledged the complexity of Zimbabwe's crisis.

"What the government is perceiving as the problem, what the media are saying, what the international community is saying, all those are the issues that translate into what we call the difficult political situation in Zimbabwe," he said.

But he added that dialogue is the only solution.

South African President Thabo Mbeki was asked to negotiate talks between ZANU-PF and the opposition. MDC's Biti said his group was open to such talks but only under certain conditions.

"We are prepared to dialogue with ZANU-PF but we are not prepared to dialogue with ZANU-PF as long as Mugabe is part of the equation. Mugabe belongs to the past; he belongs to history," he said.

Zimbabwe is due to hold elections next year. Biti said his faction of the MDC would participate but only after a new constitution is drafted.

Political tensions have been rising in Zimbabwe due to high unemployment, food shortages and rising inflation. A series of gasoline bomb attacks have added to the anxieties.

The Zimbabwean government accuses the opposition of responsibility for the attacks, which opposition leaders deny.