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Daily Archives: November 11, 2008

Zimbabwe’s neighbours fail to break impasse


by Fran Blandy*

Zimbabwe's neighbours Sunday failed to break an impasse on forming a unity government, prompting opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to appeal to the African Union to step in.
After 12 hours of closed-door talks, the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) failed to prod President Robert Mugabe into a compromise with Tsvangirai.
The summit's final communique called for the Zimbabwean rivals to form a unity government immediately and to share control of the disputed home affairs ministry, which oversees the police.
But Tsvangirai, who defeated Mugabe in March elections, rejected their proposal as unworkable.
"This issue of co-sharing does not work. We have said so ourselves, we have rejected it, and that's the position," Tsvangirai told reporters.
Tsvangirai said that his dispute with Mugabe was not only about the ministry of home affairs, but striking a fair balance of power in the unity government.
"It is about power sharing, it is about equitable power sharing, it is about giving the responsibility to the party that won an election and has compromised its position to share a government with a party that lost," he said.
"SADC approached this summit without any concrete strategy and did not have the courage and the decency to look Mr Mugabe in the eyes and tell him that his position was wrong," he said.
"Given this dangerous and precarious situation and the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe, we hope and pray that the guarantors of the agreement, in particular progressive members of SADC and the African Union, will now move very quickly to try and salvage the agreement," Tsvangirai said.
Mugabe left the summit without making any public comments.
SADC's executive secretary Tomaz Salomao simply called on the rivals to build trust and form a government — without making any headway on removing the obstacles standing in their way.
"In due course the parties will learn to work together … let's give them a chance," Salomao said. "Let's start with the inclusive government as a matter of urgency, meaning immediately."
Under the unity accord signed on September 15, 84-year-old Mugabe would remain as president while Tsvangirai would become prime minister.
Tsvangirai said he was still committed to the deal, but said he would not accept Mugabe's proposals for a cabinet that locks his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) out of critical posts.
Tsvangirai has accused the Mugabe regime of orchestrating attacks against his supporters following his victory in the March election, when they were forced into a runoff after Tsvangirai fell short of an outright majority.
The opposition leader pulled out of the run-off because of the violence, which Amnesty International says has left 180 dead and 9,000 injured.
The summit had opened with tough talk from South Africa, as President Kgalema Motlanthe urged both sides "to show political maturity" in finding a compromise.
"The historic power-sharing agreement remains the only vehicle to help extricate Zimbabwe from her socio-economic challenges," Motlanthe said.
The latest failed diplomatic effort — which attracted only five leaders from the 15-nation bloc — leaves Zimbabwe's people sinking deeper into a humanitarian crisis.
With inflation running at more than 231 million percent, half of the population requires emergency food aid while a breakdown in basic services has led to deadly outbreaks of cholera in the capital.


World marks 90th anniversary of Great War

This week marks 90 years since the end of World War I, surely the last major anniversary for its handful of ageing veterans as what was dubbed the "War to End All Wars" slips from memory into history.
In reality, rather than mark an end to human conflict, the Great War merely set the tone for the 20th century's litany of brutality, although in terms of sheer mass killing on the battlefield it has rarely been equalled since.
Many conflicts followed but November 11 — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, when the World War I armistice was signed — has become the moment when the world remembers the dead from all of them.
Today's ceremonies will be solemn but in some countries a little less personal, as the last of the combat veterans from World War I pass on.
Erich Kastner, the last of the German troops, died on January 1 this year, aged 107. The last French veteran, Italian-born legionnaire Lazare Ponticelli, survived him by only two months, dying on March 12 aged 110.
Since the two faced each other across the Western Front — indeed, since France and Germany fought each other again in World War II — their countries have become allies at the heart of a united Europe.
But, as France's minister for veterans' affairs Jean-Marie Bockel said last week: "Reconciliation is not forgetting. To forget would be the worst thing."
"Now that the last veteran has gone, 90 years on we once more share a moment of awareness. This war is part of our collective memory, and he who does not know his past has no future," he said, inaugurating a memorial.
There are three surviving members of the British forces that joined France, Russia and Italy in the battle against Germany and the other Central Powers.
Henry Allingham is the oldest, having turned 112 in June. As a naval air service mechanic he served in the 1916 Battle of Jutland in the North Sea, before joining the new Royal Air Force at the Somme.
Two years his junior, Harry Patch fought in the trenches opposite the Belgian town of Ypres in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, and the Royal Navy's 107-year-old Claude Choules served on board HMS Revenge.
In 1917, after three years of bloody conflict in Flanders and on the Somme, the United States intervened on behalf of Britain and France, and brought with them ambulance driver Frank Buckles, now 107 and living in West Virginia.
Today, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain's Prince Charles, the speaker of the German parliament Peter Muller and Australia's Governor General Quentin Bryce will hold a solemn ceremony of remembrance.
They will meet at Fort Douaumont, epicentre of the 1916 Battle of Verdun, for speeches and prayers at the ossuary where lie the remains of 300,000 men cut down by machine-gun and artillery fire in 300 days and nights of hell.
Afterwards, Sarkozy will visit the nearby German cemetery.
In August 1914, many of the fresh-faced young volunteers who marched out of towns over much of Europe were confident, little suspecting what mayhem modern industrial weaponry would wreak on the battlefield.
By Christmas, hundreds of thousands were dead, and fatality rates in the tens of thousands on a single day had already become commonplace.
Guns had become highly efficient, and railways could bring fresh troops and equipment up to the killing fields as fast as they were destroyed.
Despite these apparent advances, the war in the west rapidly became a horrific stalemate, set in a sea of mud, barbed wire and rat-infested trenches.
Fighting on the Eastern Front, in the wide open spaces of Russia and Poland, was more mobile, but there too many battles caused astronomic casualties. There was also major combat at sea, and in the Middle East.
In all, the First World War killed some 10 million military men and left 20 million injured, many of them disfigured by explosives or poison gas, or reduced to human wrecks by what became known as "shell shock."
Among the major belligerents, Germany lost 1.9 million, Russia 1.7 million, France 1.4 million, the Austro-Hungarian empire a million and Britain 760,000.