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Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Thursday, 16 October 2008 13:26 UK

Zimbabwe foes 'near cabinet deal'

MDC spokeman Nelson Chamisa names the ministries the party wants to control

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and a top opposition official have said a deal could be reached shortly to name a power-sharing government.

One of Mr Mugabe's officials says changes could be made to the cabinet posts named last week, the state-owned Herald newspaper reports.

However, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was less optimistic, saying the talks had been "quite circuitous".

Former South African leader Thabo Mbeki is leading a third day of crisis talks.

Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai signed a deal to share power last month but they have since been unable to agree on which party should hold which cabinet posts.

Last weekend, Mr Mugabe allocated all the key posts to Zanu-PF, prompting Mr Tsvangirai to threaten to pull out of the agreement and Mr Mbeki to fly to Harare on Monday.

But the mood seemed to have changed during Wednesday's talks.

'Compromise'

"We have made some progress and we will finish tomorrow," Mr Mugabe said after talks ended.

"History is being made and mountains are being moved," said Tendai Biti, general secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

He said a deal could come on Thursday "if you pray hard".

Robert Mugabe arrives for the talks in Harare on 14 October
Robert Mugabe said his allies should hold the key posts, sparking crisis talks
The Herald quotes an unnamed Zanu-PF official as saying: "There could be some changes to the list [of ministry allocations] gazetted last week as the parties find each other and make compromises for the sake of progress."

Mr Mbeki is in Zimbabwe as a private citizen, trying to save the deal that he brokered shortly before resigning as South African president at the end of September.

The latest talks began on Tuesday as Zimbabwe's parliament held its first working session under opposition control since disputed elections earlier this year.

MPs heckled each other at the opening.

Mr Mugabe had earlier allocated the main ministries, including defence, home, foreign affairs, and justice, to his Zanu-PF party.

Mr Tsvangirai wants all cabinet positions to be revisited in discussions with Mr Mbeki.

But Zanu-PF says only one ministry - finance - is up for discussion.

According to the original deal - which allocates 15 ministries to Zanu-PF, 13 to the MDC and three to a smaller MDC faction - only Zanu-PF has a ministerial seat vacant.

Rescue plan

Finance is one of the most crucial posts, as Zimbabweans hope the power-sharing deal will lead to action to tackle the economic crisis.

Donors have promised to help finance a recovery plan but they are unlikely to release funds if a Zanu-PF minister is in charge of the economy.

At 231,000,000%, Zimbabwe has the world's highest rate of annual inflation, while some two million people need food aid.

Aid agencies warn that figure could double, leaving almost half the population going hungry within the next few months.

As well as finance, the MDC also insists it should have home affairs - and control of the police - if Zanu-PF has defence.

The MDC has accused both the police and the military of taking part in violent attacks on its supporters ahead of the presidential run-off in June.


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