A Zimbabwe government spokesman on Friday rejected the demand by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai for the unconditional release of rights monitor Jestina Mukoko and other abducted or detained activists as a key conditions for joining a unity government.
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said Tsvangirai's demand was "ridiculous." This came 72 hours before Tsvangirai is to meet with President Robert Mugabe and South African President Kgalema Motlanthe in a last-ditch effort to save the power-sharing process.
Also to take part in that meeting set for Monday in Harare are rival Movement for Democratic Change formation leader Arthur Mutambara, power-sharing mediator Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, and Mozambican President Armando Guebuza.
Elsewhere, European Union delegates attending an EU-South African summit in Durban urged Pretoria to quickly find a solution to the drawn-out Zimbabwe crisis.
But both sides seemed well entrenched in their positions. Government spokesman Matonga told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai will have to drop his demand for the release of prisoners if there is to be a breakthrough Monday.
However, Tsvangirai in comments to journalists Thursday in Johannesburg was at pains to disqualify Matonga as having any standing to set ZANU-PF's negotiating position.