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Mugabe's Possible Retirement is the Talk of Zimbabwe - 2003-01-13

Speculation about whether Robert Mugabe plans to resign as president of Zimbabwe is dominating conversations in Harare.

A man in a parking lot near an international hotel was furious when he could not find a copy of any of three dailies normally available at mid-morning. He said he wanted to read the newspapers to learn more about what everyone was discussing: the rumor Mr. Mugabe was going to quit.

A beggar at a traffic light ambled over, asking not for money for food, but whether it was true that the president was going. Telephones of foreign journalists rang incessantly with Zimbabweans asking if it was true.

What is true is that Colonel Lionel Dyke, a former soldier who served with both the Rhodesian and Zimbabwean armies, met with the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, late last year.

The Associated Press said Sunday that the mediator claimed he was sent by Parliament Speaker Emmerson Mnangagw and army chief General Vitalis Zvinavashe to discuss a way out of Zimbabwe's deepening crisis.

Mr. Tsvangirai says they discussed a scenario in which Mr. Mugabe would retire, and the possibility of a transitional government leading to new presidential elections.

The question of amnesty for Mr. Mugabe's alleged human rights violations during nearly 23 years in power was also discussed. Mr. Tsvangirai said he believed that for Zimbabwe to recover, amnesty for Mr. Mugabe, to ease his retirement, would be necessary.

But Mr Tsvangirai said nothing more came from that single meeting. He said he thought so little of it, because there had been several similar ones in the past, that he did not fully brief his colleagues.

Mr. Mnangagw told public radio in South Africa that the report was all lies. Mr Mugabe, due back from holiday any day, has not issued a statement.

Most political analysts in Harrare say the issue at stake is whether the ruling ZANU-PF believes the economy will continue to deteriorate without any possibility of international rescue until Mr. Mugabe leaves office or his powers are reduced.

Meanwhile the opposition mayor of Harare, Elias Mudzuri, was released from prison, after a judge said he had been wrongfully arrested Saturday while making a speech. The judge said there would be no charges against him.

Analysts say Mr. Mudzuri's arrest shows that while the ruling elite may be talking about Mr. Mugabe's possible retirement among themselves, they are determined as ever to ensure that ZANU-PF remains firmly in control.