Zimbabwe opposition votes to join government

Parties aim to share control as leaders seek Feb. swearing-in

January 31, 2009|By Robyn Dixon | Robyn Dixon,Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Facing severe pressure from Southern African leaders, Zimbabwe's opposition voted yesterday to join a unity government under President Robert G. Mugabe, despite failing to win its key demand for control of the police.

The opposition will share control of the police ministry with Mugabe's party, an arrangement that many in the opposition see as unworkable. Mugabe retains control of the military and intelligence ministries.

The U.N., meanwhile, reported that Zimbabwe has suffered more than 60,000 cholera cases since August, surpassing what experts had said would be a worst-case scenario. The Red Cross and World Health Organization warned that the disease could become prevalent throughout the country and claim thousands of lives each year.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won his party's backing for the move at a meeting of the party's national council in Harare, although some senior figures are unhappy about joining a government with Mugabe largely in control.

Tsvangirai believes the alternative, seeing Mugabe form his own government with the blessing of regional leaders, would be worse.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change faces isolation unless it complies with a vote Tuesday by regional leaders that the unity government be sworn in by mid-February.

At the same time, many analysts believe the unity government - agreed to last September but bogged down until yesterday in bitter wrangling over Cabinet positions - has little hope of resolving the country's entrenched crisis. They warned that Western aid, desperately needed to rebuild the impoverished country, is unlikely while Mugabe retains control of the military and security forces.

Western diplomats said that aid hinges on evidence of genuine political and economic reform and that Mugabe's history of reneging on promised commitments could prove problematic.

Tony Reeler, analyst with the independent Research and Advocacy Unit in Harare, said in a phone interview it would be difficult for Tsvangirai's MDC to hold Mugabe's ZANU-PF party accountable under the deal.

The United Nations said yesterday that cholera has sickened 60,401 Zimbabweans and killed 3,161 since August. Experts had predicted the crisis would peak at 60,000, but Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency, said yesterday: "Unfortunately, the outbreak is not under control yet."

The collapse of Zimbabwe's health and sanitation infrastructure under the weight of hyperinflation has made it difficult to contain cholera. Humanitarian groups are also battling a hunger crisis. The U.N. food program said Thursday that 7 million Zimbabweans - 80 percent of the population by some estimates - need food aid.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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