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Zimbabwe Cabinet Meets Without MDC Ministers


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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe led a cabinet meeting Tuesday without the presence of unity partner Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai who was out of the country on a regional tour to appeal for help with mediation. Mr. Tsvangirai is being severely criticized in the government-owned media for disengaging from executive duties.

Zimbabwe state media reported Tuesday that President Mugabe will not recognize Mr. Tsvangirai's suspension of ties with the government until he is formally informed. The state-owned daily newspaper, The Herald, quotes Mr. Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba, as saying Mr. Tsvangirai is still prime minister and is expected to attend cabinet meetings.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who "disengaged" from the country's unity government last week, was accused by the newspaper of traveling without cabinet approval. The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change party is on a 10-day trip of Southern African Development Community countries who helped negotiate the troubled power sharing agreement in Zimbabwe.

But University of Zimbabwe political science professor John Makumbe said Mr. Tsvangirai's partial withdrawal from the national unity government was long overdue and ZANU-PF's reaction is mere posturing.

"Morgan Tsvangirai has done the right thing, he must light fires and make ZANU-PF run around putting the fires out. What he has been doing to date is agreeing to be treated like a tea-boy, he has been told what to do and he has done it without asking questions," Makumbe said.

He said ZANU-PF couldn't risk going it alone as Mr. Tsvangirai has a stronger claim to legitimacy since his party won the elections in March 2008.

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Ministers from a splinter faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara attended the cabinet meeting. Mutambara, who is one of two deputy prime ministers, said at a news conference Monday that he was talking to both Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai. He said the national unity government is Zimbabwe's only hope of moving forward.

"We are determined to give this government a fighting chance because in our mind there is no plan B," Mutambara said.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai announced last week that his party will not withdraw from the unity government but would boycott the executive branch whose ministries it shares with President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

He cited the reluctance of Mr. Mugabe to implement matters that had been agreed to in the so-called Global Political Agreement, which brought the national unity government to power.

Among the outstanding issues is the appointment of governors and the harassment of his party members and MPs. His announcement came two days after agriculture deputy minister designate Roy Bennett was arrested and redetained on charges of insurgency and terror. Bennett has since been released on bail but Mr. Tsvangirai has said his party will not participate in government until all the issues he raised are resolved.