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Zimbabwean Opposition Party Opens Annual Conference in Harare - 2003-12-20

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change opened its annual conference in Harare Saturday. In his opening speech, the president of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai addressed a range of issues including the country's moribund economy, the HIV-AIDs pandemic, land and the difficulties of getting the ruling ZANU-PF party to commit to serious negotiations aimed at solving the country's political and economic problems.

He said he is encouraged by the continued attempts of Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to persuade the ruling ZANU-PF to the negotiating table. He accused Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of betraying the trust of President Mbeki.

In an effort to establish dialogue between the two parties, Mr. Mbeki met with both Mr. Tsvangirai and President Mugabe during a visit to Harare earlier this week.

Following his meeting with the South African leader, Mr. Tsvangirai said while differences still exist about how the Zimbabwean crisis can be solved, everyone agrees that, "Zimbabwe is bleeding and a solution must be found."

Mr. Tsvangirai reiterated his party's commitment to land reform but cautioned that it must be achieved through a democratic and participatory process. He said there was no going back to the days when the white minority held most of the country's best farming land.

The ruling ZANU-PF has repeatedly accused the MDC of being against land reform, saying if the party came to power, it would give all the seized land back to the white farmers.

The two-day MDC conference takes place as Zimbabwe experiences its worst economic crisis since independence 23 years ago. Inflation is more than 600 percent and more than 70 percent of the workforce is unemployed.