President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will meet today for talks aimed at implementing a power-sharing agreement for Zimbabwe signed in September but stalled by disagreements over Cabinet posts.
But Mr Mugabe has ruled out giving any further concessions to the opposition, saying it has one last chance to join a government of national unity, a state newspaper reported.
“This is the occasion when it’s either, they accept, or it’s a break,” Mr Mugabe was quoted by the Sunday Mail as saying.
“If they have any issues they deem outstanding, they can raise them after they come into the inclusive government.”
However, Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change insisted that all outstanding issues be resolved before a unity government is formed – not after.
The political deadlock has prevented authorities from addressing a spiralling economic crisis, with the central bank last week introducing a new 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar note to keep pace with dizzying price increases.
Inflation is officially at 231 million% – in reality much higher. The health, water and education systems have collapsed, and most major goods are in shortage.
More than five million Zimbabweans are likely to be dependent on food aid this year, and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 42,000.
Under the power-sharing accord, 84-year-old Mr Mugabe would remain president, Mr Tsvangirai would become prime minister and nearly all major Cabinet ministries would go to Mr Mugabe’s party.
But Mr Tsvangirai has said he will not be “bulldozed” into joining a lopsided government, after winning the first round of presidential elections in March but pulling out of the runoff because of violence against his supporters.
Yesterday he reiterated demands that his party receive an equal share of Cabinet portfolios. In particular, he wants control of the Home Affairs Ministry in charge of police, who are accused of a wave of abductions of opposition supporters.
The opposition party also wants a say in how Zimbabwe’s National Security Council is composed and run. And the party’s executive committee demanded after a meeting yesterday that their imprisoned supporters be released.
The talks today also include the presidents of South Africa and Mozambique and regional mediator Thabo Mbeki.