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Tsvangirai issues fresh threat

GABORONE, Dec 19 – Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai threatened to quit unity government talks on Friday over kidnappings of supporters ahead of President Robert Mugabe’s address to his party’s annual conference.

Tsvangirai, who is to become prime minister under the unity government, told reporters in Botswana that he would quit the talks in January if abductions of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) members did not stop.

"More than 42 members have been abducted," said Tsvangirai.

"If these abductions do not cease immediately and if all abductees are not released or charged in a court of law by January the 1st 2009, I will be asking the MDC’s national council to pass a resolution to suspend all negotiations and contact with ZANU-PF," Tsvangirai warned.

The MDC, unions and several human rights groups have warned of increased abductions, with Zimbabwe plunging into further ruin as its leaders fail to resolve a deadlocked political crisis.

Tsvangirai’s threat comes as ZANU-PF members gather in Bindura, Zimbabwe, northwest of the capital Harare, amid increased internal divisions and intense global pressure over the ruinous political crisis and a deadly cholera epidemic.

Mugabe, who has faced growing calls to quit office, accused the United States of urging African nations to topple him, state media reported on Friday.

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"I do not know of any African country that is brave enough to do that," Mugabe was quoted as telling a meeting of his ZANU-PF party ahead of the conference.

He also warned delegates "to be wary of the enemy who was devising new ways of destroying ZANU-PF from within" and urged them to be on high alert, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.

Australia this week joined France, the US and Britain in calling for Mugabe to step down and increased sanctions against the veteran leader’s regime, which the West blames for the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Few African nations have been openly critical of Mugabe although Botswana’s President Ian Khama infuriated his Zimbabwean counterpart last month by calling for a re-run of disputed elections under international supervision.

Mugabe also said he would soon discuss forming a unity government with his two political rivals. Negotiations to form the government following a power-sharing deal in September have deadlocked.

"We will be inviting the two leaders – Mr Morgan Tsvangirai and Professor Arthur Mutambara – to come and discuss the way forward," said Mugabe.

Unity government discussions have stalled over disagreements on the allocation of key ministries, including home affairs, which controls the police.

Last week, parliament published a constitutional amendment creating the post of prime minister.

Tsvangirai finished ahead of Mugabe in first-round presidential elections in March, but handed the presidency to his rival when he pulled out of a second round, citing violence against his supporters.

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