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Zim civic groups demand a platform
Nelson Banya, Independent Online (IOL)
May 30, 2007

Harare - Zimbabwean civic groups on Wednesday demanded they be included in political negotiations with President Robert Mugabe's government and called for an end to a crackdown on opposition activists.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is mediating talks between Mugabe's government and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to try to solve a deep political crisis as the country teeters toward economic collapse.

The Save Zimbabwe Campaign - a coalition of 31 civic and opposition groups, including the two MDC factions - has said the process needed to be broadened and should not start until the government stops its crackdown on opponents.

Save Zimbabwe Campaign spokesperson Lovemore Madhuku told journalists on Wednesday the talks should be extended beyond political parties to ensure broad agreement on the outcome.

"We insist that the dialogue process must be broad-based and not limited to political parties but must be inclusive of civic society and the churches," Madhuku said. "We will be making this position known to everybody, President Mbeki included."

"Our position is that the process must be opened up and transparent and government should cease its terror campaign ... you cannot negotiate when people are being arrested and abducted, meetings are banned and the opposition has no access to the public media," Madhuku added.

South Africa's foreign ministry, meanwhile, said in a document released in parliament it was concerned that a rift in Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF over his plans to stand for another presidential term in 2008 could complicate Mbeki's mediation on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

"The ongoing infighting within Zanu-PF, if not contained, would pose challenges for SADC's mediation efforts, as energy within the party would be consumed in efforts to come out on top in the succession battle," read part of the document handed out during a briefing session to parliament's Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs.

"In the absence of party unity it might be hard for the mediator to extract firm commitments from the party, during the dialogue process," the document said.

Zimbabwe's latest political crackdown comes as the country's economy labours under the highest inflation in the world at more than 3 700 percent along with crippling shortages of fuel, food and foreign exchange.

Mugabe, 83, blames the crisis on foreign economic sabotage following his policy of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks and has called the MDC stooges of his critics in London and Washington.

Mugabe's government launched a crackdown on the MDC in March after accusing the opposition party of seeking to overthrow it through street protests.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and dozens of his colleagues were arrested and badly beaten in police custody after trying to defy a ban on political rallies and protests.

Last weekend police stormed the opposition's head office in Harare and arrested about 200 activists who were subsequently released without charge.

Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town

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