September 17, 2008

Mugabe Cedes Some Power in Deal

By The Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - President Robert Mugabe relaxed his iron hold on Zimbabwe for the first time in nearly three decades of one- man rule on Monday, forced by escalating economic chaos into sharing power with his bitter political rivals.Thousands of supporters of the rival parties threw stones at each other outside the convention center and several hundred broke through the gates into the sprawling grounds of the convention center where the signing ceremony took place. Police fired warning shots and set dogs on the crowd, which calmed after the initial clashes and cheered as their leaders left.Mugabe, main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a faction that broke away from Tsvangirai's party, all pledged with passion to make the deal work. But long-simmering and bitter differences between the two sides and the nation's worsening economic collapse are expected to put the power-sharing deal under intense pressure.Mugabe, 84, has been in power since independence in 1980 went from being praised as an independence hero to being vilified as an autocrat. He and Tsvangirai, 56, have been enemies for a decade, and Tsvangirai has been jailed, beaten, tortured and tried for treason - charges that were dismissed in court.Western nations whose aid and investment could mean the difference between the success or failure of the unity experiment were cautious.The deal is the result of more than two months of difficult negotiations mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki said Mugabe would remain president, Tsvangirai would be prime minister and Mutambara deputy prime minister.While details of the deal were not immediately made public, officials from the rival camps have said in recent days that it laid out a complicated arrangement with Mugabe chairing the Cabinet and Tsvangirai heading a new Council of Ministers that will supervise the work of the Cabinet.In a nationally televised speech after signing the agreement before diplomats, Zimbabwean officials and other African leaders, Tsvangirai said the government's first priority should be addressing hunger.The world's highest inflation - and a scanty harvest this year - has made it difficult for many Zimbabweans to feed themselves in what was once the region's breadbasket. In addition, Mugabe's government in June restricted the work of aid agencies, accusing them of siding with the opposition before a runoff.The ban was lifted last month, but aid agencies say it takes time to gear up.Before the ban was lifted, U.N. humanitarian agencies had predicted the number of Zimbabweans who will need help to stave off hunger will rise to more than 5 million by early next year.Critics have linked Zimbabwe's economic decline to Mugabe's 2000 orders that farms be seized from whites and handed over to poor blacks. Many of the farms ended up in the hands of Mugabe loyalists, and the economy's agricultural base was disrupted. Food, fuel and hospital supplies are scarce, and millions of Zimbabweans - doctors, teachers, businesspeople among them - have fled the country in search of work.The deal describes the seizure of the farms as irreversible and says Britain should compensate those whose land was taken.The first 30 pages of the 80-page deal were made public after the deal was signed.Tsvangirai, blaming the "the policies of the past" for today's problems, said: "Under my leadership, this unity government will let businesses flourish so our people can work and provide for their families with pride."Still, Tsvangirai said Zimbabweans faced the option of uniting the country and moving forward or letting the impasse "plunge our country into the abyss of a failed state."He saluted members of parliament for their willingness to work across parties lines. "If you were my enemy yesterday, today we are bound by the same patriotic duty and destiny," he said.He called for legislators to be "driven by the hope of a new, better, brighter country" and the "hope of a new beginning."

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