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Tentative Agreement Pushes Zimbabwe One Step Forward to Inclusive Government

Negotiators from ZANU-PF and both Movement for Democratic Change party factions Thursday signed a 46-page constitutional amendment to enable formation of a unity government. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare the signed agreement now needs to be approved by the principals of the three parties, President Robert Mugabe and the leaders of two factions of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, all of whom are travelling internationally.

The extraordinary breakthrough in the troubled inter-party negotiations came when ZANU-PF negotiators had to accept that the version of the political agreement signed on September 11 was a valid document designating the post of prime minister for MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The amendment, signed off on by the six negotiators, page by page, now has to be given the green light by the three parties' principals who are all presently travelling internationally.

However, constitutional experts say there is nothing to stop Morgan Tsvangirai from being sworn in immediately as prime minister, should he wish that.

Mr. Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe in the presidential election in March. The second round from which Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew becuse of violence against his supporters was not recognized by any regional governments. Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC has a small parliamentary majority.

If the principals agree to the draft amendment it will then be published and a month later debated in parliament and it will need a two-thirds majority, and President Robert Mugabe's signature, to become law.

If there are no obstacles, lawyers say, a unity government could be in place at the earliest by January 15.

The amendment closely follows the original political agreement signed in September.

Mr. Mugabi is currently at a United Nations meeting in Qatar. Mr. Tsvangirai is in Morocco collecting a human rights prize and Mr. Mutambara is in the United States, on a private visit.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki presided over the mediation in September which created the post of prime minister for Mr. Tsvangirai. Mbeki was appointed by the Southern African Development Community to establish dialogue between the rival parties. His negotiating team presided over this week's breakthrough negotiations in South Africa.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai's MDC said despite the agreement there are still matters outstanding. SADC officials have acknowledged that there will have to be further negotiations to fairly allocate the positions of 10 provincial governors after the inclusive government is sworn in.

Nevertheless there is some relief on the streets of Harare over this tentative agreement. There had been growing regional pressure on the parties to end their disputes and focus on trying to solve Zimbabwe's humanitarian and economic crises.