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Opposition rejects Magabe talks

By Barry Bearak and Celia W. Dugger

New York Times News Service

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Zimbabwe’s opposition leader on Wednesday rejected a call from the African Union to begin talks with President Robert Mugabe, citing the continuing violence orchestrated by the government and the union’s refusal to appoint a new mediator to help resolve the nation’s political crisis.

"The conditions in Zimbabwe today are not conducive to negotiations," the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said at a news conference in Harare, the capital.

Tsvangirai’s stance, taken a day after the 53-nation union called for talks to form a unity government, marked the start of a new diplomatic phase in Zimbabwe’s years-long political crisis — one almost certain to drag on for months with a highly uncertain outcome.

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Mugabe, in power for 28 years, won the uncontested runoff on June 27 after Tsvangirai dropped out because of the rampant violence. Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders counter that any transitional government must reflect the fact that he finished first in the initial election on March 29 — with 48 percent of the vote against 43 percent for Mugabe — while the runoff has been declared neither credible nor fair by independent election monitors.

The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had hoped that the African Union would refuse to recognize Mugabe’s proclaimed victory. But the African leaders were only willing to say they were "deeply concerned" about the violence and hopeful that a government of national unity could be achieved through negotiations.

For its part, the Mugabe government said that it welcomed the outcome. "The A.U. resolution is in conformity with what President Mugabe said at his inauguration, when he said we are prepared to talk in order to resolve our problems," the information minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, told Reuters.

The opposition, however, rejected the idea of holding talks while the state-sponsored violence continued. The party said that since the runoff, nine more of its supporters had been killed and hundreds of others had been beaten and driven from their homes.

The opposition also objects to the mediator, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, whose role was effectively endorsed by the African Union. Tsvangirai has repeatedly described Mbeki as biased and has asked him to step aside as the sole mediator.

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