- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

HARARE, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe would resign and hand authority to a new power-sharing government under a deal discussed by Zimbabwe's ruling party and opposition officials, mediators said yesterday.
The offer made by two of the ruling party's most powerful figures Parliament Speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa and armed forces commander Gen. Vitalis Zvinavashe was an effort to help Zimbabwe regain international legitimacy, and renewed aid and investment during a period of transitional rule.
The mediators, who fear accusations of treason if the deal collapses, said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was assured that Mr. Mugabe would step down under any deal.
"There is wide consensus Mugabe is the problem, and national and party dialogue must begin," said a mediator who spoke on the condition on anonymity. "Colleagues have shifted the blame onto him, and he must accept the consequences."
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai confirmed the offer and told the Associated Press that his party's lawmakers were ready to vote with the ruling party for a constitutional amendment creating a caretaker government once Mr. Mugabe steps down.
That would be a departure from recent opposition policy.
Ruling party officials were not available for comment yesterday.
A power-sharing government would try to end an economic meltdown that has sent inflation soaring, caused a massive fuel shortage and left at least half Zimbabwe's population on the verge of starvation.
Mr. Mugabe, 78, who led the nation to independence in 1980, won a new six-year term in elections. Independent observers said the elections were deeply flawed and the opposition, along with Britain, the European Union and the United States, say the voting was rigged and influenced by violence and intimidation.
The early retirement of Mr. Mugabe, once seen as a towering African statesman, had long seemed inconceivable.
The deal would guarantee him immunity from any prosecution, Mr. Tsvangirai said. The opposition, which has repeatedly called for Mr. Mugabe to be tried for misrule and human-rights violations during his 23 years in power, would not insist that Mr. Mugabe go into exile, he said.
"The country is on its knees. If people are asked to make that sacrifice of giving him immunity, and to say, 'Let's forget the past and move forward,' let it be," Mr. Tsvangirai said.
"We have more to lose by getting bogged down until the country collapses and more to gain by saying this is a hurdle we have overcome."
Mr. Mugabe, who was expected to return to his office in Harare today after a two-week vacation abroad, has not commented on any possible deal.
His absence during the country's food and gasoline crises fanned criticism at home.
During the past three years, Mr. Mugabe's government has seized most of Zimbabwe's thousands of white-owned commercial farms, calling it a justified struggle by landless blacks to correct colonial-era injustices that left 4,000 whites with one-third of the nation's farmland.
Farming disruptions and poor rains have led to a food crisis. Political chaos coupled with the government's increasing isolation has caused acute shortages of hard currency and essential imports.
Under the constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of the president's leaving office.
Mr. Tsvangirai said his party was prepared to support a parliamentary vote for a constitutional amendment "to vary that period" until conditions for elections are suitable.

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