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Daily Archives: August 11, 2008

Mbeki holds crisis talks in Zimbabwe as rivals close in on deal


by Fanuel Jongwe*

South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks with Zimbabwe's political rivals yesterday as they edged closer to a power-sharing deal following Robert Mugabe's widely condemned re-election.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the head of a smaller MDC faction, were all inside a central Harare hotel for the talks just before midday.
None of the leaders made any comment as they arrived separately. Government ministers had greeted Mugabe as the smiling 84-year-old leader's motorcade arrived in the mid-morning.
MDC number two Tendai Biti, the party's chief negotiator, briefly spoke to reporters as he left the Rainbow Towers hotel, nodding yes when asked if any progress had been made.
"I think we all need to pray," he said.
Mbeki, the mediator for the Zimbabwe talks, arrived in Harare late Saturday following more than two weeks of negotiations in South Africa in a bid to reach a power-sharing deal to resolve the country's political crisis.
His trip comes amid signs the rivals were nearing a deal in the negotiations, with both Mbeki's government and Mugabe reporting progress in recent days.
It is also ahead of Zimbabwe's Heroes' Day today in honour of those who died in the guerrilla war that led to the country's independence and a summit of southern African heads of state next weekend.
Zimbabwean state media reported yesterday that negotiators had reached agreement on key issues and Mbeki's meetings yesterday would focus on hammering out details of a new government.
"Issues with the structure and scope of the new government are likely to take centre stage," The Sunday Mail newspaper said.
Quoting unnamed sources close to the talks, the government mouthpiece said negotiators for the ruling and opposition parties had already resolved issues related to land and other matters.
Land distribution has long been a major issue in Zimbabwe following independence from Britain in 1980. Mugabe embarked on a chaotic land reform programme at the turn of the decade which saw some 4,000 white-owned farms expropriated by the state.
Critics say the land programme led to Zimbabwe's economic meltdown, with the country facing the world's highest inflation rate and major food shortages.
Mugabe blames the country's woes on sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States following presidential elections in 2002 which the MDC and Western observers charged were rigged to hand the Zimbabwe president victory.
Power-sharing talks began after the political rivals signed a deal on July 21 laying the framework for negotiations following Mugabe's re-election in a one-candidate poll in June widely condemned as a farce.
Tsvangirai boycotted the June 27 presidential run-off despite finishing ahead of Mugabe in the March first round, citing rising violence against his supporters that had killed dozens and injured thousands.
The opposition leader believes his first-round total gives him the right to the lion's share of power, but sources in his party said previously that Mugabe's negotiators had only offered him one of several vice-presidential posts.
The ruling ZANU-PF party has insisted Mugabe must be recognised as president as part of any deal, since he won the June 27 vote.
Negotiations have reportedly included proposals for Mugabe to take on a more ceremonial role as president, with Tsvangirai being made executive prime minister.
However, analysts question whether Mugabe, as well as his allies among the country's highly influential security chiefs, will relinquish power and if the bitter arch-rivals could work together in a power-sharing government.


Palestinians mourn national poet

Palestinians yesterday mourned the passing of Mahmud Darwish, who gave voice to their decades-old struggle and is widely considered one of the Arab world's greatest modern poets.
In a televised address after Darwish died on Saturday in a US hospital from complications following open-heart surgery, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of official mourning.
"How much does it pain my heart and my soul to announce to the Palestinian people, the Arab and Islamic world, and to everyone who loves peace and freedom, the passing of the star of Palestine," Abbas said.
"The absence of our great poet Mahmud Darwish, the love of Palestine and the pioneer of the modern Palestinian cultural project… will leave a great void in our cultural, political, and national life," he said.
The 67-year-old penned over two dozen books of poetry and prose in a career spanning nearly five decades that captured the Palestinian experience of war, exile, and the struggle for national self-determination.
He was the the winner of numerous international literary prizes, and is widely considered one of the Arab world's greatest poets.
"Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging," the poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said of him.
Born in 1941 in an Arab village in what is now northern Israel, Darwish and his family fled during the 1948 war that followed the creation of the Jewish state, though they returned to Israel a few years later.
Darwish has been harshly critical of Israel over the years and was detained several times in the 1960s before going into self-imposed exile in 1970. Over the next 25 years he lived briefly in Paris, Moscow, and several Arab capitals.
A sequence of poetic prose written about his experience living in Beirut during the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Lebanon in 1982 was translated into English in 1995 under the title "Memory for Forgetfulness."
In 1988 he wrote the official Palestinian declaration of independence and served on the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) until 1993, when he resigned in protest at the Oslo autonomy accords.
He had been living in the West Bank town of Ramallah since 1995.
Following news of Darwish's death, the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan said Abbas would send a plane to repatriate the body.
Atallah Kheiry also said in Amman that Abbas had asked Palestinian officials to contact the Israeli authorities to press them to allow for the burial of Darwish in his native Galilee in northern Israel.