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Zimbabwe State Media Say Ruling Party, Opposition Near Deal


State media in Zimbabwe say the ruling ZANU-PF party and the main opposition movement have reached a tentative deal on a series of political, security, and media law reforms.

The state-run Sunday Mail newspaper says the two sides have adopted a draft agreement and anticipate signing the deal soon.

It says the agreement calls for changes to Zimbabwe's strict broadcasting and security laws, which critics say have been used to stifle political opposition and the press.

The paper also says the deal would pave the way for elections in March.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has not confirmed the report.

The Sunday Mail quotes an MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, as saying free and fair elections are possible only when there is a new constitution and when there is a level electoral playing field.

Chamisa says those issues "are still up for discussion" at the negotiations in South Africa's capital, Pretoria.

The two parties began talks in March at the urging of the Southern African Development Community. The talks are being mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

The SADC asked for the talks after police stopped a major MDC rally and beat up some of the party's top leaders, including MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai.

Western nations led by Britain and the United States accuse President Robert Mugabe of destroying Zimbabwe's economy with his policies. The country has chronic shortages of food and other goods, and is battling an annual inflation rate of at least several thousand percent.

Mr. Mugabe blames the problems on Britain's opposition to his government, and U.S. and British sanctions against members of that government.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.