Zimbabwean leader Morgan Tsvangirai has agreed in principle to forming a unity government. Under the new government Mr. Tsvangirai will be prime minister and President Robert Mugabe will remain as head of state.

Morgan Tsvangirai's decision to push ahead with a unity government provided certain conditions are met was made after an emergency summit held in the South African capital Pretoria.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community, SADC, in their meeting this week gave Robert Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai until mid-February to form a unity government but did not spell out what steps it would take if they did not meet the deadline.

Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal in September after the then-ruling party lost legislative elections for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, but disagreements over the allocation of key ministries have stalled the formation of a unity government.

MDC leader will face national council vote on whether to endorse unity government

On Friday, Mr. Tsvangirai will face the Movement for Democratic Change's National Council which will vote on whether to endorse their leaders in a unity government.

In the new government, Mr. Mugabe will remain not only head of state but in charge of the army and secret service. Mr. Tsvangirai will share the home affairs ministry which control the police.

If the National Council supports Mr. Tsvangirai, parliament will then have to vote on a constitutional amendment to enable the unity government.

Mr. Tsvangirai is then likely to be sworn in on about February 6, along with two MDC deputy prime ministers, and then the cabinet almost equally divided between ZANU PF and the two factions of the MDC.

Unity government will write new constitution

The unity government, many analysts have said, was the only possible alternative considering the massive economic and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

The unity government will have to write a new constitution and the country will then face new elections in 18 months, at which point many believe, Mr. Mugabe, who will be 85 years old next month, will choose to retire.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's death toll from the cholera epidemic, caused by broken water and sewage systems has now hit 3,000, with more than 50,000 infected.