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Zimbabwe ruling party, opposition holding talks

PRETORIA, July 10 – Zimbabwe’s ruling party and main opposition were holding talks in South Africa on Thursday on their country’s political crisis, sources close to the negotiations told AFP.

Sources close to both Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said negotiators for the parties had travelled to South Africa for talks.

The talks were set to begin on Thursday, a source close to ZANU-PF said. A separate source close to the negotiations said talks were already under way.

"The two left yesterday, therefore talks should have started today," a source close to ZANU-PF said of the party’s negotiators.

MDC chief negotiator Tendai Biti travelled to South Africa early Thursday, said a party source who described the discussions as preparatory talks ahead of negotiations following Zimbabwe’s widely denounced one-man election that handed a new presidential term to Robert Mugabe.

Biti, who faces treason charges, left Harare after a Zimbabwean court eased his bail conditions and released his passport.

"The secretary general left this morning, but I am not exactly sure when the talks are due to take place," said the MDC source on condition of anonymity.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa would not confirm whether the party’s number two was attending talks, saying only that pre-dialogue consultations were to take place soon.

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"These are just consultations about dialogue. Objectives of that dialogue need to be put in place," said Chamisa.

"There is need for consultations on conditions that are supposed to be in place and the mechanisms of any future negotiations," he added.

Chamisa expressed hope that dialogue aimed at finding a lasting solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis would be completed quickly.

"Given the magnitude of the crisis in the country, we need this matter to be resolved within the shortest possible time, certainly not more than a month," he said.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the June 27 presidential run-off five days to the poll, citing rising violence against his supporters that left dozens dead and thousands injured.

Mugabe defied international and regional calls to postpone the vote and pushed ahead with it anyway, resulting in a sixth term as president for the 84-year-old leader.

Tsvangirai finished ahead of Mugabe in the March 29 first round of the election, but with an official vote total just short of an outright majority.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has been seeking a negotiated solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis, though he has faced criticism over his quiet diplomacy approach.

G8 leaders meeting in Japan this week called for a special envoy to assist in mediation efforts, while also rejecting the legitimacy of Mugabe’s government and threatening further sanctions against his regime.

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The UN Security Council was likely to vote Thursday on targeted sanctions on Mugabe and 13 of his cronies, diplomats said.

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