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Zimbabwe: Rival Political Parties May Hold Talks

After a week of reduced political tension in Zimbabwe, efforts are under way to get talks started between the ruling Zanu PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC.

The state-controlled broadcaster and newspapers loyal to the ruling party, have toned down their criticism of the opposition this week.

According to political analysts, this was a response to the MDC's agreement to attend President Robert Mugabe's speech on Tuesday at the opening of parliament. Since Mr. Mugabe's disputed election victory last year, opposition legislators have walked out before he addresses each new session of parliament.

Two weeks ago President Bush and South African president Thabo Mbeki agreed, on a public platform in Pretoria, that the Zimbabwe crisis needed urgent resolution, leading to new elections.

Since then there have been increased contacts between the opposition and ruling parties.

The MDC's justice spokesman David Coltart said this week that if substantive talks begin the MDC will suspend, but not cancel, its legal challenge to Mr. Mugabe's re-election. The MDC and most foreign observers say the election was rigged.

The MDC has appointed a negotiating team, led by its secretary-general Welshman Ncube. Mr. Ncube is one of three top opposition leaders who are on trial for treason. The opposition has also chosen various technical teams to support its frontline negotiators. It says it is ready to begin talks, as soon as Zanu PF is ready.

Zanu PF has not yet selected a negotiating team. In addition, party leaders have not decided who among them will replace President Mugabe. If Mr. Mugabe retires, fresh presidential elections have to be held within 90 days.

Political analysts believe Zanu PF has no candidate who could win a fair election against the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

One of the early points for negotiation will be the opposition's demand that repressive security legislation be dropped immediately, in order to allow free political activity.

Economists across a wide range of opinion said this week that negotiations are urgent as there is almost no food or fuel in Zimbabwe.

On Friday, pay day for most employed people, there were long queues snaking around banks and building socities across the country. But only a few people were able to draw cash from their salary checks, because there are almost no banknotes available.