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More Promising Tone To Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Talks

Talks on power-sharing by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and both formations of the Movement for Democratic Change continued Tuesday in Harare with some indications of progress under mediation by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Reuters reported late Tuesday that Mr. Mugabe and MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai both expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached on Wednesday.

Tsvangirai told reporters as he left the Harare hotel that is the venue for the talks that "there is a positive development," and that MDC officials are hoping that on Wednesday "we will be able to look at the outstanding issues" in the talks.

Mugabe told reporters: "We are still going to talk. We are finishing it tomorrow." He said there "is progress, and the lack of it, in some areas," Reuters reported.

But legal experts in Harare who were privy to the new proposed terms told VOA that Mr. Mbeki has brought nothing really new to the table, and that the changes are essentially cosmetic.

They said Mr. Mugabe retains firm control of the state, the defense apparatus and in effect the government. Tsvangirai will be in charge of all ministries, but will report to Mr. Mugabe, they said.

The sources said the prime minister - Tsvangirai - will be deputy chairman of the cabinet and will take over the chair in the absence of Mr. Mugabe. This is a change from earlier proposals, in which one of Mr. Mugabe's vice presidents would assume the chairmanship of the cabinet in his absence.

They added that Mr. Mugabe is still not fully on board with the latest proposal.

Earlier, correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on the early stages in which negotiators prepared the ground for Mugabe, Tsvangirai and rival MDC formation leader Arthur Mutambara to take up the talks.

Sources in Harare and Pretoria said Mr. Mbeki was under mounting pressure from his regional peers to come up with a deal. He was said to have submitted a document looking at executive powers and their distribution while offering a structure for an all-inclusive government. Sources said the new proposal strikes a delicate balance of power under which Mr. Mugabe would control the state while Mr. Tsvangirai as prime minister would have full responsibility for government, but in consultation with Mr. Mugabe.

Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Commmunity’s troika or committee on defense was to meet on Wednesday in Swaziland - which currently holds the troika's chairmanship - to consider the state of play in the Zimbabwe crisis.

Analysts interpreted this as SADC's way of signaling impatience with the talks, which opened in late July and have repeatedly stalled since then.

Zimbabwean political analyst John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe professor, told reporter Blessing Zulu that Mbeki's new proposal looked like the only way forward at this point.

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