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Zimbabwe opposition willing to share power with ruling party
Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Secretary-General Tendai Biti speaks during a news conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, May 2, 2008. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent of the vote in the first round of Zimbabwe's presidential elections, officials said Friday, more than longtime President Robert Mugabe but not enough to avoid a runoff. Biti, said he believed any runoff would be illegal and risked allowing Mugabe to hold on to power by running opposed. - photo by Associated Press
    HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s opposition said Friday it was willing to share power with the ruling party, but not with longtime President Robert Mugabe.
    Left unresolved was whether a runoff election would be held. Mugabe said he was willing to take part in a second round of voting after official results showed him in second place.
    However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was cool to the idea, saying a runoff could not be held now in a climate of violence and repression.
    Earlier in the day, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission released results from the March 29 presidential election that showed opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning the most votes, but not the simple majority needed to avoid a runoff with Mugabe, the second-place finisher.
    Tsvangirai’s deputy in the Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti, acknowledged at a news conference that skipping a second round is a gamble that could result in another term for the 84-year-old Mugabe, who ruled since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
    Biti would not, as party leaders have done before, categorically rule out participating in a runoff, but said there could not be one ‘‘for the simple and good reasons that that country is burning’’ amid violence and an economic collapse from rampant inflation.
    The opposition maintains that a tally giving Tsvangirai anything but outright victory is fraudulent.
    ‘‘Morgan Tsvangirai should be allowed to form a government of national healing that includes all Zimbabwean stakeholders,’’ Biti told reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa. ‘‘The only condition we give ... is that President Mugabe must immediately concede.’’
    He said the party’s top decision-making body would meet Saturday to decide its next step, and that Tsvangirai would hold a news conference soon.
    Biti said Mugabe’s safety and that of his family and his assets would be guaranteed, and suggested that he, like other former African leaders, should look to a future of retirement or as a respected statesman mediating in regional crises.
    At a news conference in Harare, top Mugabe aide Emmerson Mnangagwa said the president has accepted the outcome and will run in the second round of balloting.
    Independent observers had said earlier that Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.
    Mnangagwa countered that it was the opposition that was responsible for election fraud and violence, and accused the United States, Britain and Australia of supporting the MDC. Many of his accusations seemed to echo charges laid against his own party, with the MDC substituted for ZANU-PF.
    His version contrasted sharply with independent reports indicating the MDC, up against a ruling party that can call on the army and armed militants, was too weak to run a political campaign — let alone a violent uprising or mass electoral fraud.
    ‘‘ZANU-PF and all its candidates, especially its presidential candidate, feel aggrieved and were greatly prejudiced by the attempt by the MDC and its sponsors to tamper with the electoral system,’’ Mnangagwa said.
    But he added: ‘‘The ZANU-PF presidential candidate, comrade R.G. Mugabe, accepts the results as announced and is offering himself for election in the presidential runoff whose date has yet to be announced.’’
    Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said the constitution requires a second round no sooner than 21 days from the announcement of the results.
    The opposition is under enormous pressure, with its supporters facing violence and most of its top leaders, including Biti and Tsvangirai, staying out of Zimbabwe for fear of arrest. The opposition and independent rights groups accuse Mugabe of having held back results for more than a month in order to orchestrate a campaign of violence and intimidation to cow voters ahead of any runoff.
    In Washington, the U.S. questioned whether a runoff could be free and fair.
    ‘‘The bottom line is, it’s pretty hard to see how there could be a meaningful runoff in Zimbabwe when the government has done everything it can to both delay and obscure the results,’’ said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
    ‘‘If you did actually hold a runoff, it is a little hard for people to take it seriously, when the government of Zimbabwe is busy harassing, repressing, arresting and abusing the members of the opposition.’’
    British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was clear Mugabe lost the presidential election.
    ‘‘His campaign of violence and intimidation over the last month must stop immediately,’’ Miliband said in a statement issued in London. ‘‘Any second round must be free, fair and open to international monitors. We will continue to support those working for democracy in Zimbabwe and regional and international partners committed to change.’’
    Mugabe has kept a stranglehold on power in recent years through elections that independent observers say were marred by fraud, intimidation and rigging.
    He has been accused of brutality and increasing autocracy. But the main campaign issue for many here had been the economic ruin of what had once been a regional breadbasket.
    The collapse of the agriculture-based economy has been linked to a land reform campaign Mugabe launched in 2000 that saw the often violent seizure of farmland from whites. Mugabe claimed the program was to benefit poor blacks, but much of the land was handed over to his cronies.

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