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Zimbabwe Police Seize Opposition Leader's Passport

Hours before the first South African-mediated talks between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were due to begin in Pretoria, police in Harare seized the passport of Arthur Mutambara, one of two MDC presidents. For VOA, Peta Thornycroft reports that Mutambara and founding MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai were due to fly to London later on Saturday for their first joint mission to brief European leaders on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Arthur Mutambara has been attending the World Economic Forum gathering this week in Cape Town.

At the forum, during a debate on Zimbabwe, he told delegates that the future of Zimbabwe could not remain in the hands of the ruling ZANU-PF as the party was responsible for creating the humanitarian and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.

Among the leaders and delegates at the forum was a former ZANU-PF finance minister, Simba Makoni, sometimes tipped as a successor to President Robert Mugabe.

While Mutambara was at the forum in Cape Town, MDC officials in Harare were working to secure visas for him to travel to Europe for the talks with EU leaders.

However, Gabriel Chaibva, Mutambara's spokesman in Harare, said after the MDC officials had obtained the necessary travel papers from the British Embassy, they were arrested by members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Mutambara's passport was confiscated.

The MDC leader was due to fly out of Johannesburg late Saturday to join Morgan Tsvangirai to brief leaders in London and elsewhere in the European Union.

The MDC split into two factions in late 2005, but the factions are making efforts to forge a cooperation agreement to fight the next national elections in March 2008.

Harare lawyer Harrison Nkomo is looking for a judge of the High Court to hear an urgent application for the return of Mutambara's passport and the release of the four officials who were arrested.

Mutambara, now stuck in South Africa without travel documents, said Saturday that ZANU-PF knew it could never win a fully free and fair election and was determined to try and prevent the two factions of the MDC from uniting to fight the polls.

Meanwhile in Pretoria, Zimbabwe's justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, and labor minister, Nicholas Goche, are scheduled to begin talks Saturday with the two secretaries general of the MDC, Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube.

The talks are hosted by South African president Thabo Mbeki who is appointed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to mediate an end to the ever-worsening political and economic crisis.