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Further Delay Seen Likely In Conclusion Of Zimbabwe Crisis Negotiations

Zimbabwean crisis resolution talks unfolding in Pretoria under South African mediation hit another snag on Wednesday, sources said, as negotiators for the ruling party said they cannot conclude an agreement until after ZANU-PF's congress this weekend.

South African mediators had been hoping to wrap up the negotiations this weekend.

Sources close to the talks said the ZANU-PF negotiators appeared to be intending to stall on signing any agreement until after national elections set for March.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change wants to see an agreement in place before the elections, which it says should only be held six months after the conclusion of talks so that accords on elections can be properly implemented.

Deputy Secretary General Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga of the MDC formation led by Arthur Mutambara, which is flanked in the talks by the faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, said the talks could continue after the deadline if no accord is set.

Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe addressed the ruling party’s central committee in Harare Wednesday on the eve of the official opening of the ZANU-PF extraordinary congress during which his bid for re-election is likely to be endorsed.

Sources said Mr. Mugabe ordered loyalists to gear up in constituencies, districts and party cells to ensure a “thunderous” election victory in March when a new parliament is also to be elected. Local council elections are tentatively set for January.

The sources said Mr. Mugabe acknowledged in the central committee meeting that some ZANU-PF members were exploiting the economic crisis, and he warned that the government will crack down harder on business found to be overcharging.

Mr. Mugabe underscored his desire to see black Zimbabweans acquire a majority stake in mining companies under a pending black empowerment scheme which the opposition has denounced as a populist election-year ploy.

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