African leaders have failed to break the deadlock in forming a unity government in Zimbabwe, with a fight for control of the powerful home affairs ministry threatening to sink the power-sharing deal. The Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai met for 13 hours with key regional leaders, but they left with only an agreement to seek an urgent summit of 15 African nations in hopes of reaching a deal.
A communique said the two sides still disagreed on which party should control the home affairs ministry, which oversees the police. It urged all 15 leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to hold a "summit to further review the current political situation in Zimbabwe as a matter of urgency." The summit urged the rivals "to genuinely commit themselves in finding a lasting solution to the current deadlock."
"The people of Zimbabwe are faced with difficult challenges and suffering that can only be addressed once the inclusive government is in place," it said. The rivals signed a power-sharing deal six weeks ago that calls for 84-year-old Mr Mugabe to remain as president while Mr Tsvangirai becomes prime minister. But Mr Mugabe has refused to cede control of home affairs, which Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says it should hold the ministry to reassure its supporters who suffered political violence during election campaigning this year.
The party accuses the police of widespread human rights abuses, a concern highlighted as 47 people were arrested and eight injured yesterday when police violently broke up a protest by 100 activists who tried to march by the summit. Police fired tear gas and beat the crowd of students and activists, just 300m (yards) from the hotel where the leaders were meeting, organisers said. "One woman said she was struck with a rifle butt. Another student I spoke to said he fell to the ground and a policeman stamped on his head," said Blessing Vava, spokesman for the Zimbabwe National Students Union.
"We are shocked by this brutality" during the summit talks, he said. Mr Tsvangirai, who won the first round presidential race in March, pulled out of a runoff in June and accused the ruling party of co-ordinating attacks that left more than 100 of his supporters dead. The power-sharing deal, brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, was meant to end the political turmoil and to begin piecing together the shattered economy.
Instead the country remains paralysed by the political battle that has crushed the hopes of ordinary Zimbabweans yearning for an end to the turmoil. The South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, as well as Mozambican President Armando Emilio Guebuza, Swaziland prime minister Barnabas Dlamini and Angolan Foreign Minister Assuncao dos Anjos had hoped to pressure the two sides into an agreement.
A new summit of all SADC members could take weeks to organise, and the group's executive secretary Tomaz Salomao said it was not clear where the emergency meeting would be held. "The only outstanding issue is the one related to home affairs," he told reporters. "Progress in home affairs will be done." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed the urgency of breaking the political impasse, saying in a statement that he was "distressed about the growing human cost of the crisis in Zimbabwe, in particular given the signs that the humanitarian situation in the country may worsen."
Zimbabwe's economy is tumbling in free fall with the world's highest inflation rate, estimated at 231 million per cent. Once seen as an African success story, Zimbabwe is now one of its failures with more than 80 per cent of its population plunged into poverty and nearly half its people in need of international food aid. * AFP