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Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Tsvangirai Agree to Hold Power-Sharing Talks

BY Admin  July 21, 2008 at 11:30 AM EDT

Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai; AP photo

The breakthrough in Harare, which was mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, follows nearly three months of violence that the opposition says left more than 120 dead and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Mugabe was reelected on June 27 in a widely condemned run-off vote, which was boycotted by Tsvangirai because of claims of violence against his supporters.

The signing of the deal marked the first time rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai have met face-to-face in some 10 years, the Associated Press reported.

A visibly subdued Mugabe said after the signing that the agreement was “to chart a new way of political interaction,” while Tsvangirai called the ceremony “a very historic occasion,” according to Reuters.

Tsvangirai went on to say that he and Mugabe were committing themselves to the “first tentative step towards searching for a solution to a county that is in crisis,” the BBC reported.

Once hailed as an African liberation hero, the 84-year-old Mugabe has been increasingly seen as a dictator, responsible for pushing the country he’s ruled for 28 years into political and economic ruin.

The framework agreement sets a two-week deadline for the government and two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to discuss key issues, including a unity government and how to hold new elections, officials told news agencies.

Mbeki, who has largely negotiated alone as the regional mediator, agreed to expand the mediation group to include the African Union, United Nations and officials from the Southern African Development Community in a “reference group,” according to Reuters.

A power-sharing government has been urged as a solution to the crisis by the African Union and other regional groups amid Zimbabwe’s deep political crisis. The violence fueled a parallel economic panic that has flooded neighboring states with millions of Zimbabwean refugees.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have been under heavy international and African pressure to enter the talks, which are expected to be extremely difficult.

Mugabe is urging negotiators to act without influence from Europe or the United States, Reuters reported, while Tsvangirai says he’ll be “putting the interests of Zimbabwe” at the forefront.