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Responding To Mugabe Election Call, Zimbabwe Opposition Pursues Coalition Talks

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change has regrouped in the wake of President Robert Mugabe’s call for national elections March 29, aiming to maximize its political clout despite indications the electoral playing field will be tilted to favor of the ruling party due to its control of most aspects of the electoral process.

MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai traveled this week to Pretoria to urge South African President Thabo Mbeki, mediator in talks between the ruling party and opposition, to take a firmer line with Mr. Mugabe as to respecting the spirit of the negotiations. Mr. Mbeki failed recently to sway Mr. Mugabe on key sticking points, however.

Political sources said Mr. Mbeki would like to return to Harare for further discussions with Mr. Mugabe and other senior political figures, but said the ruling ZANU-PF party is not enthusiastic about receiving him as it presses on with its election campaign.

Vice President Thokozane Khupe of Tsvangirai's faction of the MDC, in Addis Ababa this week lobbying diplomats at the African Union summit shortly to open there, says the party wants Mr. Mbeki to inform the Southern African Development Community, which handed him his mediation brief, that the talks have hit a dead end.

Such a report would open the way for SADC to escalate its involvement. If so inclined, Mr. Mbeki will have an opportunity to deliver such a message later this week when a summit of the African Union opens Thursday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The two factions of the MDC are stepping up efforts to forge a united election front behind Tsvangirai as sole presidential candidate running against Mr. Mugabe. MDC sources said the two formations will shortly announce a formal unity pact.

Political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that turning an international spotlight on Mr. Mugabe's responsibility for the demise of the talks can be an effective strategy for the opposition.

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