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Zimbabwe's Ruling, Opposition Parties Cancel Talks

Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU PF party has canceled talks that were scheduled to begin Monday with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC. The two sides had agreed to an agenda for negotiations last month, to be mediated by Nigeria and South Africa.

Zimbabwe's justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said ZANU PF cannot hold talks with the MDC until the opposition party's legal challenge to the March presidential election is finalized in the High Court.

Mr. Chinamasa said ZANU PF also objected to what he described as false reports from the MDC about violence against its supporters. ZANU PF cited a recent report by Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, which said a woman had been beheaded by ruling party supporters in front of her children.

The Daily News published an apology the following day and admitted the information it was given by the woman's boyfriend was false.

Nigeria and South Africa initiated talks between the two parties after Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth and became increasingly isolated internationally.

The election results were disputed not only by MDC but also by the Commonwealth and parliamentarians from the southern African Development Community and several other local and foreign observer groups. However, the South African observer group described the election victory of President Robert Mugabe as legitimate.

MDC justice spokesman David Coltart said ZANU PF has, in effect, canceled the talks because it knows that legal challenges to parliamentary elections nearly two years ago are still not concluded. He said the MDC were drawn into the talks as a result of the efforts of Nigeria and South Africa to be honest brokers in finding a way forward.

He said grassroots MDC supporters would be pleased the talks would not continue as many of them had seen the initiative as a waste of time.

Zimbabwean political scientist John Makumbe said ZANU PF's withdrawal from the talks makes Mr. Mugabe and his government even more isolated than before. He said ZANU PF had, in effect, canceled South African and Nigerian mediation because the MDC's High Court challenge to the presidential election could take years.