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Plan To Reopen Zimbabwe Parliament Exposes Rift In Opposition

A rift between the two branches of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change widened on Wednesday as the formation led by MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai objected to convening a new parliament next week before a power-sharing agreement with the long-ruling ZANU-PF is in place, while the rival MDC grouping of Arthur Mutambara endorsed the move.

The Tsvangirai MDC formation warned that swearing in members of the parliament elected in the March 29 general election without a deal in place could "decapitate" negotiations that have been in progress since July 21, when a preliminary agreement was signed. But the talks have deadlocked on the question of how much power should devolve from President Robert Mugabe to Tsvangirai under the proposed national unity government.

Intense negotiations on the margins of a weekend summit of the Southern African Development Community failed to bring the parties to agreement.

Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma told reporters Wednesday in Harare that the house of assembly and senate will convene on Tuesday next week. But analysts said that with some elected opposition members still in hiding, the move is likely to increase tension.

Secretary General Tendai Biti of the Tsvangirai MDC formation issued a statement saying the proposed reopening of parliament would be a “clear repudiation” of the July 21 pact, signaling “beyond reasonable doubt…ZANU-PF's unwillingness to continue to be part of the talks.”

Tsvangirai formation spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that convening parliament could put the negotiations at risk.

Confirming the rift within the opposition, General Welshman Ncube of the Mutambara MDC grouping said the formation fully supports the reopening of parliament.

The division is significant because the smaller Mutambara formation, with 10 house seats, is essential if the MDC is to exercise the combined majority it garnered on March 29.

Of the 210 house seats, the Tsvangirai grouping controls 100 and ZANU-PF holds 99. One seat is held by independent Jonathan Moyo, a former ZANU-PF information minister.

President Mugabe in recent weeks has assiduously courted Mutambara, whose grouping has expressed impatience with Tsvangirai's refusal to compromise on what executive powers he should wield as prime minister in a national unity government.

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