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Zimbabwe deal targeted as summit enters final day

JOHANNESBURG, August 17 – Southern African leaders were gathering Sunday for the final day of a summit overshadowed by Zimbabwe’s crisis, amid a push for a deal between the country’s rivals before the meeting wraps up.

The leaders were expected to meet behind closed doors to discuss Zimbabwe in detail, one minister attending the proceedings told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Discussions were to include a report from South African President Thabo Mbeki, the regionally appointed mediator for Zimbabwe, and from a troika of nations responsible for security in the region, according to the minister.

Leaders from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) could then decide whether to take action over the Zimbabwe crisis, the minister added.

At the summit’s opening on Saturday, Mbeki raised the possibility of a settlement before the close of the meeting.

SADC’s troika on security issues also agreed late Friday that a deal to resolve the crisis should be signed during the summit, a foreign minister who attended the meeting told AFP. The body includes Angola, Tanzania and Swaziland.

But major sticking points to a settlement were said to remain, and it was unclear whether they could be overcome before summit leaders left Johannesburg.

"It’s better not to have a deal than to have a bad deal," Zimbabwe opposition chief Morgan Tsvangirai told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday in which he insisted on being given real power in any settlement.

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Zimbabwe’s crisis overshadowed much of the summit’s first day, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s participation controversial after his re-election in a June poll widely condemned as a sham.

Zambian Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande, speaking at the summit, harshly criticised Mugabe’s re-election, calling it a "blot on the culture of democracy".

Pande was speaking on behalf of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, who remains hospitalised after suffering a stroke in June. Mwanawasa has previously said it was "scandalous for SADC to remain silent on Zimbabwe".

Hundreds protested in a march by regional trade unions, handing over a memorandum to SADC’s executive secretary saying Mugabe "cannot claim any legitimacy to rule."

A South African official close to the negotiations said remaining sticking points included whether Mugabe would retain the right to hire and fire ministers and how long a transitional government would remain in place.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change wants a clause stating that if one of the parties pulls out of the government of national unity, elections would be held within 90 days, according to the official.

Power-sharing talks stalled when three days of negotiations adjourned on Tuesday after Tsvangirai said he needed more time to consider a deal agreed by Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, who heads a smaller opposition faction.

Mbeki has met with the three leaders individually this weekend, said his spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga, who declined to give details of the discussions.

Tsvangirai and Mutambara were among the guests invited to a summit dinner on Saturday night.

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