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Zimbabwe's Ruling Party to Hold Important Meeting - 2003-07-30

Leaders of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party will hold a crucial meeting late Wednesday to discuss the future of negotiations with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The talks follow this week's meetings between church leaders and representatives of the two political parties.

It is expected that President Robert Mugabe will brief his party leadership on his talks with the church leaders and their request for details of the ruling party's plan for dialogue with the opposition.

Observers here say the key issue for the ZANU-PF leadership to decide is devising an exit plan for Mr. Mugabe and choosing his successor. But they said, in order to speed up the talks with the opposition and address Zimbabwe's rapidly deteriorating economic situation, the leaders may skip the leadership issues for the time being.

The rising hope of political dialogue follows meetings between the ruling ZANU-PF party and Zimbabwe's leading church representatives. The talks between Zimbabwe's Anglican, Catholic and Methodist churches and the party were attended by President Robert Mugabe.

The church leaders met with the head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, on Monday.

The latest flurry of talks follows President Bush's visit to Africa earlier this month. Mr. Bush agreed with the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, that Zimbabwe must urgently resolve its political crisis and hold new elections.

Mr. Mugabe has said he will not meet with Mr. Tsvangirai until he drops his legal challenge to last year's presidential elections, which many political commentators say were rigged. The MDC said it would suspend the legal challenge if serious dialogue begins.

Zimbabwe is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since its independence in 1980, with unemployment running at 70 percent and the country running out of everything, including currency needed to buy essential supplies.