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Southern African Region In Bid To Keep Zimbabwe Power-Sharing Alive

With a New Year's ultimatum by Movement for Democratic Change founder and Zimbabwean prime minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai looming which could derail the troubled power-sharing process, officials of the Southern African Development Community were trying on Tuesday to arrange an eleventh-hour meeting between the principals.

Tsvangirai issued a statement Dec. 19 saying he would ask his National Council to vote to break off power-sharing talks if abductions of MDC party members and civic activists do not cease and if all those seized by state agents have not been released by Jan. 1.

The police in recent days have produced many of those abducted by suspected members of the state security apparatus since October - only to charge them with plotting to topple the government. Police have also defied a high court order to hospitalize the prisoners and the state has filed an appeal with the supreme court seeking to overturn that order.

President Robert Mugabe in line with the urgings of SADC's current chairman, South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, has formally invited Tsvangirai to be sworn in as the prime minister in the national unity government he has been trying to form for weeks.

But Tsvangirai has not accepted the offer and SADC sources say regional leaders are struggling to save the power-sharing pact before it completely falls apart.

Tsvangirai spokesperson George Sibotshiwe told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai stands by his threat to pull out of power sharing talks if all those abducted are not set free by the first day of 2009.

Secretary General Welshman Ncube of the rival MDC formation says its chief, Arthur Mutambara, has not received an invitation letter from Mr. Mugabe, but added that the MDC grouping supports a meeting of the principals to rescue power-sharing.

Political analyst and lawyer Theressa Mugadza commented that abductions must be condemned - but that ultimatums are not effective.

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