- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe | President Robert Mugabe agreed to share power with the opposition Thursday after more than two decades as Zimbabwe’s unchallenged leader, according to the South African mediator.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who worked out the deal, did not immediately offer details but said Thursday that the agreement would be signed and made public Monday.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai also told reporters that the parties “have got a deal.” There was no immediate statement from the 84-year-old Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Mbeki has been in Zimbabwe since Monday trying to resolve the impasse over who would wield the most authority in a unity government. For a year, he has been trying to bring Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai closer together, insisting despite accusations that he was biased in favor of Mr. Mugabe that his policy of refusing to confront or publicly criticize either party was the best approach.

But others, including African leaders traditionally reluctant to criticize one of their own, had been increasingly impatient with Mr. Mugabe, who has been accused of trampling on Zimbabweans’ political rights and ruining the economy of what had once been the region’s breadbasket. Neighboring countries coping with Zimbabwean refugees were among the sharpest critics.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s party, Movement for Democratic Change, won the most votes in legislative and presidential elections in March, but he did not win enough to avoid a runoff against Mr. Mugabe. An onslaught of state-sponsored violence against Mr. Tsvangirai’s supporters forced him to drop out of the presidential runoff.

Mr. Mugabe kept Mr. Tsvangirai’s name on the ballot and was declared the overwhelming winner of a runoff that was widely denounced as a sham.

Citing the March results, Mr. Tsvangirai says he should be head of government and preside over Cabinet meetings, while Mr. Mugabe should be relegated to a ceremonial position. Mr. Mugabe had shown little willingness to relinquish much power.

Much of Mr. Mugabe’s popularity at home and across the continent is linked to his image as a proud African leader unafraid to defy the West. Mr. Tsvangirai, who lacks Mr. Mugabe’s anti-colonial credentials, has said Zimbabwe needs to work with the West to overcome its economic and political crises.

A political settlement would free the leaders to address Zimbabwe’s severe economic problems — which include having the world’s highest inflation rate and chronic food and fuel shortages.

Foreign investors have been wary because of the political uncertainty. Western governments are poised to help with grants and loans but will not deal with Mr. Mugabe, whom they denounce as a dictator.

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