Get Adobe Flash player

Daily Archives: October 21, 2008

Zimbabwe opposition boycotts power-sharing talks

by Sibongile Khumalo*

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted regional talks yesterday aimed at salvaging a troubled power-sharing deal after emergency travel documents were only delivered at the last minute.
Tsvangirai had been due to meet in Swaziland's capital Mbabane with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and other southern African leaders to break a weeks-long deadlock over forming a unity government.
But the opposition's lead negotiator Tendai Biti told reporters in Johannesburg that Tsvangirai had only received emergency travel documents late Sunday, calling the delay an "insult" to the man meant to become prime minister under the unity accord.
Tsvangirai has not been granted a normal passport for nearly one year, and is only allowed to leave the country on emergency travel documents valid for a single trip.
"We are not travelling with this (emergency document). It's an insult," Biti said.
He urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 15-nation regional bloc, to convene an emergency summit to find a solution to the crisis.
"We want an extraordinary meeting of SADC not only to look at outstanding issues but to say to President Mugabe: 'enough is enough'," he said.
Biti insisted his party would not pull out of the power-sharing deal, despite Tsvangirai's boycott of yesterday's meeting.
"We'll be the last to walk out of the deal," he said.
An official with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Harare said the delay in issuing the travel document showed that Mugabe was not sincere in wanting to negotiate.
Mugabe's regime "seemed to not be taking the issue seriously," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Tsvangirai's boycott cast greater doubt on the unity deal, which was broked by former South African leader Thabo Mbeki more than one month ago.
Under the deal, 84-year-old Mugabe would remain as president while Tsvangirai takes the new post of prime minister.
But the two have failed to agree on who should control powerful ministries — particularly home affairs, which oversees the police force.
Mugabe's chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa warned at the weekend that SADC should only issue "guidance" on how to end the impasse rather than impose any solution.
Mbeki mediated four long days of talks between the rivals in Harare last week.
After failing to break the impasse, they had agreed to turn to SADC's security body — currently headed by Swaziland — to find a solution.
Mugabe and Mbeki were both at the venue for the talks in Mbabane yesterday, along with South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, Swaziland's King Mswati III and Mozambican President Armando Emilio Guebuza.
Angola's foreign minister was also expected to attend, though it was unclear what progress could be made without Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in a first round presidential vote in March, when the MDC also forced the long-ruling ZANU-PF into the minority in parliament for the first time.
But the former union leader failed to win enough votes for an outright victory and then pulled out of the run-off in June, accusing the regime of coordinating a brutal campaign of violence that left scores of his supporters dead.
The political deadlock has dimmed hopes for halting Zimbabwe's stunning economic collapse, with the country buckling under the world's highest rate of inflation at 231 million percent.
Nearly half the population needs UN food aid, while 80 percent of the people are living in poverty.


Turkish trial against 86 alleged plotters opens chaotically


by Nicolas Cheviron*

A trial against 86 people accused of plotting to overthrow Turkey's Islamist-rooted government began chaotically yesterday and was immediately adjourned.
The judge ordered a pause to decide how to proceed after lawyers protested they could not work properly in the tiny courtroom, packed with supporters of the accused, spectators and an army of journalists.
"I have been doing this job for 50 years and never saw such conditions," one of the lawyers said as others complained they did not have space even to use their laptop computers — the charge sheet alone is about 2,455 pages long.
Another attorney argued that the tiny courtroom in a prison complex in Silivri, a town outside Istanbul, was intended to "prevent us from ensuring properly the rights of the defense."
The case against the so-called Ergenekon group has deepened the rift between supporters of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and hardline secularists, who see the case as a government-backed campaign to bully opponents.
The suspects — among them prominent figures — were to answer about 30 separate charges ranging from membership in a terrorist group and instigating an armed uprising against the government to arson and illegal possession of weapons.
Among the 86 suspects — 46 of whom are remanded in custody — are retired army officers, leftist politicians, journalists, members of secularist associations, academics and underworld figures.
They were charged as part of a probe into the discovery of hand grenades in Istanbul in June 2007, which is still continuing, with more suspects — some of them in jail — awaiting charges.
Scores of activists from the left-wing Labour Party, whose leader Dogu Perincek is among the suspects, demonstrated outside the courtroom, waving Turkish flags and brandishing posters of Ataturk, Turkey's secularist founder.
The secularist Cumhuriyet daily, whose 83-year-old chief columnist Ilhan Selcuk is also among the accused, said the suspects were indicted "without any evidence" and charged that "this is not a trial… but a political feud."
Several pro-government newspapers, on the other hand, hailed the case with almost identical headlines: "The trial of the century."
The prosecution argues the suspects instigated violence and planned assassinations to foment political turmoil in the country and topple the AKP.
The group reportedly hoped the chaos would prompt a military coup.
Turkey's staunchly secularist army has ousted four governments in as many decades and threatened Erdogan's government last year with stepping in to safeguard secularism.
Hardcore secularists suspect the AKP of advancing a secret plan to introduce Islamic rule in Turkey, a charge the party vehemently denies.
The indictment holds Ergenekon responsible for at least two attacks initially blamed on Islamists — the 2006 bombing of the Cumhuriyet daily and an armed attack on a top court the same year in which a senior judge was killed.
The group is also accused of planning to assassinate several prominent figures, among them Erdogan, former army chief Yasar Buyukanit, 2006 Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk, and senior Kurdish politician Osman Baydemir.
Some suspects are widely seen as embodiments of the "deep state" — a term used to describe members of the security forces acting outside the law, often collaborating with organised crime, to protect what they consider Turkey's best interests.
The indictment says Ergenekon has penetrated senior army ranks, without being institutionally linked to the military.
The probe has been applauded by pro-government and liberal circles as an unprecedented step forward in the fight against rogue elements in the state.
But others, especially hardcore secularists, have sharply criticised it as an AKP move of revenge against political opponents for a failed bid earlier this year to outlaw the party at the Constitutional Court.