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Zimbabwe Crisis Resolution Process Cut Short By Mugabe Election Call

After 10 months of negotiations, talks between Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change seem at a dead end and two South African initiatives in the past week to revive them have been fruitless.

Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe's announcement late this week setting a date of March 29 for presidential, general and national elections appeared to sweep aside the opposition’s objections saying the South African-mediated talks should be allowed to reach a conclusion and resulting accords be implemented before the elections.

A protest organized this week the MDC faction of Morgan Tsvangirai intended to test whether the government would respect an amended Public Order and Security Act easing restrictions on public gatherings was crushed by Harare police.

Tsvangirai told his supporters later that President Mugabe had failed the test.

These developments raise the question of whether the South African-mediated talks launched by the Southern African Development Community in March 2007 in response to surging political violence in Zimbabwe have been entirely in vain.

The Tsvangirai faction of the opposition is threatening to boycott the elections, citing what it considers bad-faith negotiating by ZANU-PF in the talks and the unlikelihood that the elections coming up in nine weeks can be considered free and fair.

But the MDC faction led by Arthur Mutambara says it is ready to contest the elections, regardless of the issues still outstanding in the South African-mediated talks.

Civic groups including the National Constitutional Assembly, the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network say conditions prevailing in the country reflect the “ineffectiveness” of the limited reforms set in the talks.

To examine the results of the inconclusive talks, reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to researcher Patrick Rankumise of the Africa Institute of South Africa, a SADC specialist, and Executive Director Farai Maguwu of the Center for Research and Development in Mutare, in eastern Zimbabwe.

Maguwu offered the view that while the the so-called SADC process appears to have failed, the Movement for Democratic Change was obliged to give them a chance.

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