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Harare Says Tsvangirai's Australia Contacts Jeopardize Crisis Talks

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai met with Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Melbourne on Friday amid warnings from top officials in Harare that his contacts with the Australian government jeopardized ongoing crisis talks.

Mr. Howard told journalists before the closed-door meeting that he admires Tsvangirai for his persistence and bravery in standing up to President Robert Mugabe, whom he described as an “undemocratic bully.” Voicing concern about deteriorating conditions in Zimbabwe, Mr. Howard said he looks forward to a democratic power shift.

Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters that his five-day visit had been a productive round of encounters with officials, political analysts and members of civil society. He delivered a lecture Thursday at the human rights center of the University of New South Wales.

In Harare, government officials and state media denounced Tsvangirai's contacts with Australian officials, saying they threatened to put a stop to crisis resolution talks that South African President Thabo Mbeki has been mediating for the past five months.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba told the government-controlled Herald newspaper that Mr Tsvangirai had decided to "sacrifice ongoing negotiations under the aegis of President Mbeki by patronizing white Australia” as the ruling party had demanded an end to what it characterized to foreign interference in the crisis.

Tsvangirai told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe Thursday that in fact it was President Mugabe who was negotiating in bad faith and that Mr. Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party sought an excuse to break off the mediated talks.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...