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Zimbabwe's Ruling Party Claims Progress in Cabinet Negotiations


South Africa's new government has asked former president Thabo Mbeki on Thursday to continue as the region's mediator in Zimbabwe's political crisis despite his ousting as president. But, as Peta Thornycroft reports, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party said Mbeki's involvement was not needed now to break an impasse threatening to derail a power-sharing deal.

It has been three weeks since President Robert Mugabe agreed to share power with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who is now prime minister-designate.

On the heels of that decision, Mr. Mugabe went to Egypt for a few days on holiday, and then to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. On his return, Mr. Mugabe has made it clear he wants to retain all the powerful cabinet positions.

Mr. Tsvangirai and his negotiators have not been able to negotiate with Mr. Mugabe on the issue and have called on the South African Development Community for assistance. SADC has asked South African President Mbeki to return to Harare to unlock the deadlock.

A source close to the negotiations said Mr. Mbeki and his full team of facilitators is on standby to go.

However, sources in Harare say he cannot go there unless he is invited by both ZANU-PF and the MDC. They say ZANU-PF told them Thursday there was no problem and negotiations were going well and a solution was close at hand.

Mr. Mugabe has praised Mr. Mbeki's mediation but is refusing to call on him for assistance to break the deadlock.

Meanwhile, there are regular reports of MDC supporters being harassed, arrested and physically beaten during this period. And, there is a grave humanitarian situation over food, and hundreds of thousands of people are lining up daily for cash from banks to buy basic provisions.

Without warning or consultation the central bank Thursday canceled many electronic transfer payments, the only way many people can buy goods and services as there is no cash at the banks.

The United Nations said on Thursday that the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe was deteriorating and would continue to worsen into next year. It was estimated that up to 3.8 million people would be short of food between now and the end of the year, and during the first quarter of 2009 over five million people would need food aid, according to the United Nation.