JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - After three days of intensive negotiations to resolve Zimbabwe's political crisis, President Robert G. Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai were deadlocked yesterday on the most fundamental issue: which one of them would lead a new unity government.
The talks, which began last month with high hopes for a quick settlement, were adjourned with no date set for a resumption. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the official mediator in the crisis, left Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, yesterday without the power-sharing deal he had hoped to broker.
Mbeki, widely criticized for his silence about the human rights violations of Mugabe's supporters, will brief other southern African leaders about the status of the talks at a meeting in Johannesburg this weekend.
In the meantime, hunger and hyperinflation worsen across Zimbabwe, which has sunk into a deepening economic morass under Mugabe's leadership.
Mugabe, who won a presidential runoff election against Tsvangirai that independent monitors said was neither free nor fair, has yet to lift a two-month-old ban on the provision of assistance by nongovernmental organizations.
He has accused them of colluding with Western nations to topple him from power.
More than 1.5 million people in Zimbabwe, which has a population of 12 million, have lost access to food and other basic necessities, donor nations say.
The latest round of talks at a hotel in downtown Harare ended on a note of great confusion.
Speaking anonymously, officials within Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, told news agencies and The Herald, a state-owned newspaper, that Mugabe had cut a separate deal with a splinter opposition faction that controls enough votes in Parliament to potentially swing the majority his way.
But Arthur Mutambara, the faction leader with whom Mugabe had reportedly signed the deal, denied any arrangement.
The article in The Herald yesterday suggested a possible motive for the erroneous leak from ruling party officials. It quoted an anonymous source saying that if Tsvangirai takes too long to sign the agreement Mugabe wants, Mugabe "will simply go ahead and form the next government."
But opposition sources close to Tsvangirai said he was determined not to sign a deal that left Mugabe in charge.