Mugabe attends SADC summit

August 16th, 2008 - 5:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, Aug 16 (DPA) A two-day summit of Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders focusing on the crisis in Zimbabwe got underway Saturday in Johannesburg, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s attendance the subject of several protests. Mugabe is attending the summit as head of state. Zimbabwe’s opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara are attending the conference, but only as observers.

The summit, at which South Africa takes over the SADC chair from Zambia, is expected to be dominated by Mugabe’s talks with the opposition leaders on the formation of a government of national unity.

Three days of negotiations between the 84-year-old president, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Tsvangirai and minority MDC faction leader Mutambara ended Tuesday in deadlock.

Zimbabwe’s The Herald newspaper reported Saturday that the three men had met separately with Mbeki on the eve of the summit Friday in an eleventh hour attempt to try to move the talks forward. The paper also said the talks might be completed over the weekend.

The MDC were not immediately available for comment.

Mbeki is SADC’s mediator in Zimbabwe and had been eager to bag a deal by the opening of the summit to vindicate his years of oft-maligned “quiet diplomacy” with Mugabe.

In the absence of such a deal, Mugabe’s attendance at the 14- nation gathering has sparked protest from civil society groups and one of his peers.

Botswana’s President Ian Khama, who refuses to recognise Mugabe’s victory in a one-man June presidential election widely derided as a sham, is boycotting the summit in protest.

South Africa’s Congress of Trade Unions were also preparing to march on the summit venue Saturday in protest over the lack of democracy in Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

Avaaz, an international pro-democracy movement, said more than 60,000 people had sent online “red cards” to Mugabe since Thursday in support of the demonstration.

Zimbabweans are hoping a negotiated settlement will deliver them from a decade of political and economic woes under Mugabe.

The main sticking point in the negotiations is the division of power between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, if Mugabe remains president and Tsvangirai becomes prime minister as has been proposed.

The MDC says Tsvangirai’s victory over Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections March 29 means he should lead the country and Mugabe retain merely ceremonial powers.

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