- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2008

JOHANNESBURG | Zimbabwe’s breakthrough political deal gives the opposition control of the Cabinet and the police, who have terrorized opponents for years, two opposition officials said Friday.

That means overhauling Zimbabwe’s draconian security and media laws will be a top priority for the opposition, the officials said on the condition of anonymity because the agreement had not yet been made public.

They said Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 84, retains control of the country’s military in the power-sharing deal brokered Thursday night in the Zimbabwean capital. It was expected to be signed Monday in the presence of presidents of neighboring countries, among them South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, who mediated the agreement.

Mr. Mbeki said at a late-night press conference Thursday that the agreement would be made public Monday. Mr. Mugabe has made no statement on the deal, and attempts to reach officials from his party were not immediately successful.

However, five opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) officials spoke on the condition of anonymity Friday because of a media blackout, with two providing details of the power-sharing deal.

They said it would free the leaders to address Zimbabwe’s severe economic problems - which include the world’s highest inflation rate and chronic food and fuel shortages. Western nations are poised to help, but much depends on whether they believe Mr. Mugabe has been sidelined.

Morgan Tsvangirai, 56, the leader of the MDC, will get most seats in the Cabinet, 16, with 15 for Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF, the two officials said.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s party gets eight deputy ministries, Mr. Mugabe gets six and one goes to a breakaway opposition faction led by Arthur Mutambara.

The deal envisages the coalition government lasting between two and 2 1/2 years. It calls for a new constitution to be drawn up within 18 months and put to a national referendum. New elections should be held 90 days later.

One official said the deal includes disbanding the southern African nation’s feared Central Intelligence Organization, which like the police comes under the mantle of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and replacing it with a smaller, more efficient National Security Authority.

Mr. Tsvangirai broke a deadlock in the talks by proposing a new Council of State made up of Mr. Mugabe and two deputies from his party, and Mr. Tsvangirai and two of his deputies.

Mr. Tsvangirai will be in charge of the Cabinet and Mr. Mugabe will be in charge of the council, which will oversee the Cabinet. Mr. Mugabe would have no veto powers on the council.

Mr. Tsvangirai based his claim to govern on winning the most votes in legislative and presidential elections in March. 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 June runoff widely denounced as a sham.

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