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Mugabe Gives Zimbabwe Opposition Ultimatum

President Robert Mugabe will name his own Cabinet if his opposition does not sign onto a power-sharing deal Thursday, a state-owned newspaper reported. The opposition expressed concern Mugabe was turning his back on talks.

"We are a government, and we are a government that is empowered by elections," The Herald, a governing party mouthpiece, quoted Mugabe as telling reporters Wednesday when he was in Zambia for the funeral of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa. "So we should form a Cabinet. We will not allow a situation where we will not have a Cabinet forever.

"If after tomorrow (opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai) does not want to sign, we will certainly put together a Cabinet. We feel frozen at the moment."

Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai's chief negotiator in the power-sharing talks, said Thursday the Herald story was the only word the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had had of any plans by Mugabe to unilaterally name a Cabinet. That raised the possibility the Herald story was an attempt by Mugabe to pressure the opposition to try to break a deadlock in the talks.

Biti said the talks were stalled, but would not elaborate on what was preventing agreement.

"We remain committed to these talks. We want these talks to succeed," Biti said in a telephone interview.

Biti said that if Mugabe formed a Cabinet on his own, it would be "the final nail into the carcass of this dialogue." He said Mugabe could not negotiate "while holding a gun to our head."

The two sides have remained at odds on the question of who should have ultimate authority in any unity government.

Tsvangirai has proposed he be a powerful prime minister, leaving a largely ceremonial presidency to Mugabe. Mugabe, though, appears to be resisting surrendering much of the power he has wielded since independence in 1980.

The Herald story by Caesar Zvayi, a Zimbabwean journalist seen as close to Mugabe, accused Tsvangirai of "demanding a power transfer instead of the power-sharing agreed to during the talks."

Tsvangirai came first in a field of four in the first round of presidential voting in March, but did not win by the margin necessary to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mugabe. Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff because of attacks on his supporters blamed on Mugabe's party militants and security forces.

Mugabe held the runoff, and was declared the overwhelming winner, though the exercise was widely denounced.

On Thursday, The Herald said Mugabe blamed Britain for what he portrayed as Tsvangirai's intransigence. Mugabe has repeatedly accused Tsvangirai of being a puppet of the former colonial power.

Biti on Thursday bristled at the idea that only foreign influence would explain why the opposition differed with Mugabe.

"We find it so patronizing," the opposition negotiator said.

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