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Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Briefly Stopped from Traveling to S. Africa for Summit

Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two senior members of his party were temporarily prevented from traveling to South Africa Thursday when Zimbabwe officials confiscated their passports and then returned them. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare that Tsvangirai is expected to address a regional summit in South Africa this weekend.

Immigration officials confiscated passports from the opposition party's Morgan Tsvangirai, party secretary-general Tendai Biti and legislator Elphas Mukonoweshoro at Harare International Airport. However, Movement for Democratic Change official Nqobizitha Mlilo said the passports were returned to the three men after a brief delay.

They were due to travel to South Africa for last minute negotiations Friday ahead of the summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which Tsvangirai was scheduled to address on Saturday. The main topic of the meeting was expected to be the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai won the first round of Zimbabwe's presidential election in March, but not by a clear majority. He pulled out of a June run-off citing a campaign of violence against his supporters. In parliamentary elections, his party took 100 seats, and the ruling ZANU-PF 99 seats.

Biti is the senior MDC negotiator at the talks between the opposition and ZANU-PF. The talks are being negotiated by SADC-appointed mediator President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. Biti, at the time of the passport confiscation, said he believed this latest development is a message from Mr. Mugabe that he is not interested in a negotiated settlement.

"I think they [the Zimbabwe government] are sending a clear and unambiguous and unequivocal message to President Mbeki, to SADC, to the African Union, to the United Nations and everyone else, that look you people are forcing us dialogue with the MDC, but we are not interested. We are thugs, we are hooligans, we are fascists, and therefore stop, leave us alone, we have obtained a mandate on the 27th of June, and that is it. Don't bother us," he said.

Biti has little faith that SADC will be able to help bring about a successful outcome to the negotiations.

"And I think as usual you will see a paralyzed SADC that will be a victim of its own inaction, and [incapacity] to understand the extent of the madness, the fascism that they are dealing with. So it's almost history replaying itself over and over again," he said.

The talks between Tsvangirai, Mugabe and smaller MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara stalled on Tuesday night.

These talks followed two weeks of negotiations between the three parties representatives in South Africa.

The talks are in response to a memorandum of understanding signed by the three leaders on July 21, which had a mandate to negotiate a power sharing agreement between MDC and ZANU-PF.

The details of what has been negotiated and agreed to have been kept secret.

But, Thursday, the state controlled Herald newspaper published a front page story claiming Tendai Biti has signed off on a number of issues, which the newspaper said were re-introduced by Tsvangirai during negotiations between him and Mr. Mugabe in Harare.

Earlier this week, officials within Mr. Mugabe's party told news agencies and The Herald that Mr. Mugabe had cut a separate deal with a splinter opposition faction that controls enough votes in Parliament to potentially swing the majority his way.

Arthur Mutambara, the faction leader with whom Mr. Mugabe had reportedly signed the deal, denied any such arrangement on Wednesday.