World and Nation

Mugabe Blocks Zimbabwe Opposition Leader From Talks

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, missed talks in Swaziland on the crisis in his country on Monday, after his rival and negotiating partner, President Robert Mugabe, refused to give him a passport.

The talks were rescheduled for next week, but the government of neighboring Botswana condemned Zimbabwe’s failure to issue the passport as “totally unacceptable and an indication of bad faith.”

Botswana’s president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who has refused to recognize Mugabe’s legitimacy since a discredited, violence-scarred June presidential runoff, also called on other African nations and the United Nations to insist on a new, internationally supervised election in Zimbabwe if the deadlock in power-sharing talks continued.

Botswana’s stance will put other countries in southern Africa on the spot. All of them sent election observers to Zimbabwe for the presidential runoff — and they unanimously agreed the election had not been free or fair. So far, they have opted to pressure Mugabe, who has been in power for 28 years, and Tsvangirai, his longtime rival, to negotiate a pact to jointly govern the country.

Botswana, in a news release issued by its Foreign Ministry on Monday, blamed Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, for the deadlock in achieving a unity government, saying the party was “seeking to dominate power.”

Heads of state from across the region, including Ian Khama, who was wildly cheered by opposition members in the audience, watched Mugabe and Tsvangirai sign a power-sharing deal more than a month ago.

But the two men have never gotten past the first choices needed to form a government: how to share the government ministries between their parties. Mugabe has unilaterally claimed almost all the most powerful ministries, a move that Tsvangirai rejected as a power grab.

Opposition officials are clearly hoping that Mugabe’s refusal to give a passport to Tsvangirai, who is designated to serve as Zimbabwe’s new prime minister under the deal, will make it difficult for African leaders to deny that Mugabe is clinging to power.

The opposition leader’s absence from the Swaziland meeting on Monday has raised further questions about whether Mugabe and Tsvangirai and the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, will be able to govern in a coalition.

Before the talks in Swaziland were postponed, Tendai Biti, the opposition party’s secretary general, said that given the government’s actions, Tsvangirai would not participate even if Mugabe could be persuaded to give Tsvangirai his passport. Instead of direct talks between the two sides, the opposition is calling for an emergency meeting of all 14 nations that make up the regional group, the Southern African Development Community.

“Somebody has to knock sense into the head of Mr. Mugabe,” Biti said.

But the regional organization, which has been trying to shepherd the talks, said it would try for another round next Monday, according to Reuters.