Tsvangirai skips Mbeki-Mugabe meeting with MDC faction

July 6th, 2008 - 3:38 am ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, July 6 (DPA) Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai appeared marginalized Saturday after South African President Thabo Mbeki held talks in Harare with President Robert Mugabe and members of a smaller faction of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The meeting was confirmed by Mbeki’s spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga. “President Mbeki did meet with President Mugabe,” he said, adding that Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway MDC faction, had also been in attendance.

Asked whether Tsvangirai, leader of the MDC faction that took the most votes in the last general elections in March, had been invited to join the talks, Ratshitanga said he had.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Tsvangirai’s MDC, confirmed that Tsvangirai had received an invitation but that he didn’t attend because the meeting did not met the criteria Tsvangirai had set out for entering talks with Mugabe on a powersharing agreement.

“We believe as MDC that any negotiations are supposed to be transparent, predictable in their outcome and the processes are supposed to satisfy the various parties or stakeholders,” he told DPA.

“Unfortunately today’s meeting did not meet that criteria.”

Asked whether Tsvangirai had agreed to let Mutambara represent him at the talks, Chamisa replied: “Certainly not.”

Mutambara’s faction broke away from Tsvangirai in 2005 amid disagreement over whether to contest Senate elections.

Following general elections in March, in which Tsvangirai’s MDC took 99 seats in the 210-member lower house of parliament to 10 for Mutambara, giving the combined party a majority over Mugabe’s Zanu-PF (97 seats), the two factions announced their reunification.

During the simultaneous presidential elections Tsvangirai also took the most votes, albeit not enough to defeat Mugabe outright. The MDC leader withdrew from the June 27 run-off over intimidation and violence against his supporters.

Signs of a new rift have emerged between the two MDC factions in recent days over whether to endorse Mugabe’s uncontested victory in the run-off.

Mugabe was sworn in as president for a further five years June 29 two days after the election derided as a sham by the MDC, the West and a handful of African countries. At least one MP from Mutambara’s faction has spoken in favour of giving Mugabe the thumbs-up.

The two MDC’s, while agreeing to work together in parliament, “continue to work as separate outfits,” Chamisa said by way of explanation.

Earlier this week a summit of African Union heads of state called on Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a government of national unity with Mbeki as mediator.

Tsvangirai had said the MDC would not enter talks until the AU sent an envoy to Zimbabwe to assist Mbeki, whom the MDC has accused of pro-Mugabe bias.

Among other conditions, the MDC is also calling for Tsvangirai’s victory in the first round of the elections to be the starting point for the talks.

Mugabe, for his part, said Friday that he would not talk to Tsvangirai unless Tsvangirai recognized him as president.

Chamisa denied that Mutambara’s presence at Saturday’s talks put pressure on Tsvangirai to come to the table, saying the MDC was not going to be pushed into flawed processes.

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