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Tsvangirai: Zimbabwe's MDC 'disengaging' from unity government

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Tsvangirai announced that his party will boycott meetings with President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party until they resolve their differences. Mugabe foe Bennett was released from jail on bail today after being detained Wednesday.

By a correspondent / October 16, 2009

Zimbabwean Prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai gestures during a press conference at Movement for Democratic Change party headquarters in Harare, Friday. Zimbabwe's prime minister announced he was boycotting the country's troubled unity government Friday, citing the "persecution" of a top aide being tried in an alleged coup plot.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

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Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe may have pushed his coalition partners around one time too many.

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Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has "disengaged" from the power-sharing government with President Mugabe. The move came after Mugabe's police arrested a top member of Mr. Tsvangirai's inner circle.

Addressing a press conference in Harare on Friday, Tsvangirai stopped short of withdrawing his party from government, but said his party would boycott all future meetings with Mugabe's ZANU PF party until outstanding issues were resolved. He also accused ZANU PF of deliberately provoking a crisis for the eight-month-old inclusive government.

"In this regard, whilst being government, we shall forthwith disengage from ZANU PF and in particular from Cabinet and the Council of Ministers until such time as confidence and respect is restored amongst us," said Tsvangirai.

The MDC boycott marks a potential turning point in the unlikely coalition between two bitter enemies, Tsvangirai and Mugabe, who formed a unity government in February after an 11-month standoff that followed the March 2008 elections. Tsvangirai's MDC won control of parliament, but Mugabe's steadfast refusal to concede defeat then – or to cede authority to his coalition partners now – has remained a dangerous stumbling block for the Zimbabwe government, and has stalled its ability to put the country on a path to recovery.

In some ways, Tsvangirai's boycott of cabinet meetings might seem to be a dream come true to Mugabe and his colleagues, who never wanted MDC in government anyway. But political analysts say Tsvangirai's strategy is to stop pretending that the current arrangement is working, and to force regional African leaders and the international community to put pressure on Mugabe to start abiding by its promises.

Washington Katema, a fellow with the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in Zimbabwe, said the MDC will not pull out of the unity government which has brought relief to ordinary Zimbabweans.

"This is meant to ratchet up local and international pressure on Mugabe so that he can address the outstanding issues," Mr. Katema said. "The political cost of MDC withdrawal would be too ghastly to contemplate."

The latest tension was triggered by the detention of Roy Bennett, the minister of agriculture and Mugabe foe who was ordered to prison Oct. 15 to face trial on eight-month-old charges of terrorism, insurgency, sabotage, and banditry. But Bennett was granted bail on Friday.

Other outstanding issues include the appointment of the central bank governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana.

Katema said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), who are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), will not allow the collapse of the unity government.

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