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Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Talks Edge Closer

Deal to hold Zimbabwe power-sharing talks 'to be signed this afternoon'

Posters for Robert Mugabe are covered with graffiti supporting the Movement for Democratic Change in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photograph: Getty Images

Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai are reportedly close to signing an agreement to hold power-sharing talks in what would be the first step towards forming a unity government, according to officials in Zimbabwe.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, government officials said the South African president, Thabo Mbeki, who has been negotiating international talks on Zimbabwe, was scheduled to arrive in Harare this morning.

It is understood Mbeki will mediate the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the ruling Zanu-PF and the two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that will attempt to outline a framework for a formal agreement.

A senior Zimbabwean official told Reuters the signing would take place at 3pm local time (2pm BST) at a Harare hotel.

Asked if the MDC would sign, he said: "As far as I know, yes. If there any hitches, we don't know about those at the moment."

The agreement is thought to set out preliminary conditions between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the MDC's leader, to help solve Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.

Tsvangirai won the most votes in the March elections but withdrew from the June run-off against Mugabe because of state-sponsored violence against his supporters.

The MDC believes at least 120 supporters have been killed and 5,000 abducted since the first round of the elections in a campaign of escalating brutality.

Tsvangirai has previously refused to sign even a framework deal unless government militias stopped violence. One of his key demands in the process has been that mediation expand beyond Mbeki, whom he has accused of favouring Mugabe.

There has been heavy international pressure for both sides to enter negotiations following Mugabe's ascension after the widely condemned election run-off on June 27.

Last week it was announced a group of senior diplomats, including representatives form the UN, the African Union (AU)and the South African Development Community, would assist Mbeki in the negotiations, widening the mediation process.

The change was prompted by talks between Mbeki, the AU's top permanent official, Jean Ping, and the UN envoy to Zimbabwe, Haile Menkerios, on Friday.

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