Mugabe says he's open to talks with Zimbabwe opposition

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The day before Zimbabwe's presidential runoff is to be held, President Robert Mugabe says he is open to discussion with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the opposition party that has decided to boycott what they and other African leaders have called a "sham election".

On Wednesday, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had called for pre-election talks on forming a transitional authority. Mugabe, who had previously shown little interest in talks with the opposition, said at a campaign rally, "Should we emerge victorious ... we will be magnanimous and say 'let's sit down and talk,' and talk we shall."

Earlier on Thursday, Tsvangirai said he would not participate in discussion after the election is held. "If the sham election goes ahead and Mugabe elects himself, how can I or the MDC negotiate with him?" Tsvangirai said in an interview with Britain's The Times. "In essence, we'll be negotiating with an illegitimate leader and we won't do that."

Mugabe left the offer for the MDC to either accept or reject, while warning against outside interference from the African Union. "The moment the outside world starts dictating, we will not proceed," he said. Mugabe also said that violence had been committed by his ZANU-PF party as well as Tsvangirai's party, and that the violence must stop.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga later clarified the president's comments. "What the president is saying to the MDC is that 'You are Zimbabweans. We want you to be part of this. We are willing to talk to you but let's finish this first." Matonga did not say how soon after the election the talks would take place.

Many southern African leaders have called for Zimbabwe to postpone the election, but Matonga says to do so would be illegal. "The president has said today that the election will go ahead because to postpone it would violate Zimbabwe's laws and he won't do that," he said.

Tsvangirai had been the only candidate facing Mugabe in the run-off election, before he announced on Sunday that he was withdrawing due to the threat of government-sponsored violence and intimidation against his party. Despite his withdrawal, election officials say his name will remain on the ballot, as they assert he missed the deadline to pull out.

While Tsvangirai fled to the Dutch Embassy for safety, other opposition members fled to the South African Embassy. Many opposition members have questioned South African president Thabo Mbeki's unwillingness to denounce Mugabe. Meanwhile, they welcomed the words of former South African president Nelson Mandela, who yesterday spoke of Zimbabwe's "tragic failure of leadership" at a London fundraiser.

Zimbabwe's government dismissed Mandela's remarks, calling them a result of pressure from Western nations like Britain and the United States. Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said, "I am condemning all Westerners for putting pressure on Mandela," while at the same time calling Mandela a "courageous" statesman. Meanwhile, Tsvangirai said his party appreciates Nelson Mandela's criticism. "It is something we cherish," he said.

During his campaign, Tsvangirai has been detained by police a total of five times, and his party's second-in-command, Tendai Biti, was charged with treason and publishing false statements. Biti was today granted bail after paying 1 trillion Zimbabwean dollars (USD$100) and surrendering his passport and the title to his home. He also must report to police twice a week.