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Zimbabwe On Tenterhooks As Mugabe-Tsvangirai Talks Stretch Out

Head-to-head talks between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai entered a delicate and, said some, precarious stage on Monday as their discussions on their respective roles and the distribution of power in a proposed national unity government failed after two days to yield an accord.

Sources close to the talks said Mr. Mugabe refused to cede significant powers to Tsvangirai, insisting on appointing the cabinet and presiding over it, and on controlling the entire security apparatus. They said he wants Tsvangirai to merely recommend and implement policies as his non-executive prime minister, an arrangement that is unacceptable to Tsvangirai.

But sources in Mr. Mugabe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party told VOA the delay was Tsvangirai's fault, saying he had made concessions only to backtrack on them.

But sources in Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said MDC Tsvangirai cannot act unilaterally and must consult with the party leadership before making commitments, and if there is not agreement at that level then the deal must be renegotiated.

Another sticking point between Mugabe and Tsvangirai is said to concern the number of cabinet portfolios. The MDC wants to limit these to 22 or 26 at the most, but ZANU-PF is demanding 38. The principals also failed to agree on the length of the next government - ZANU-PF wants a term of five-years while the MDC wants to limit it 30 months.

Revising the constitution is also problematic – the MDC wants popular consultation but ZANU-PF officials oppose submitting a draft to a referendum.

However, insiders said there were some successes in the talks.

They said the parties agreed to share equally in the appointment of the governors of the country's 10 provinces, which include metropolitan Harare and Bulawayo. For the sake of maintaining peace, they agreed to hold no by-elections for one year - officials who step down or die will be replaced by the party controlling the seat without an election.

Constitutional law expert Shadrack Ghutto, director of the Center for African Renaissance at the University of South Africa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe is bargaining hard, but there must be genuine power-sharing.

London based political analyst Msekiwa Makwanya told VOA that negotiations are a give and take exercise, and all parties must make concessions for the good of the country.

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