Zimbabwe Opposition Denies Power-Sharing Talk

Zimbabwe's opposition party on Tuesday denied rumors claiming that it was negotiating with President Robert Mugabe's government about a power-sharing deal, saying the ruling party first rejected the idea when it went ahead with the sham election.

"Nothing can be as malicious and as further from the truth," said the opposition party's No. 2 leader, Tendai Biti, who is out on bail on Zimbabwe treason charges, according to The Associated Press. "There are no talks or discussions taking place between the two parties and most importantly, there is no agreement in the offing."

Biti, an outspoken critic of Mugabe, said while his Movement for Democratic Change party had considered working with ZANU-PF members if it won the election, Mugabe had ended that possibility by holding a presidential runoff election with only one candidate and where intimidation of voters was widespread.

Mugabe on Sunday was announced the winner of Friday's election, after which he immediately held an inauguration ceremony. He then flew to the African Union Summit in Egypt, where critics say he is trying to establish legitimacy for his rule.

But the African Union on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling for Mugabe to begin negotiations with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, according to Reuters. The AU declaration was the strongest public statement by one of Zimbabwe's neighbors since Mugabe's inauguration on Sunday.

Botswana Vice President Mompati Merafhe further said Mugabe's government should be excluded from attending Southern African Development Community and African Union meetings because his attendance "would give unqualified legitimacy to a process which cannot be considered legitimate," according to Reuters.

He said Mugabe and the opposition must be treated as equal in any negotiations.

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga also called for Mugabe to be suspended from the AU after the runoff election.

However, other AU officials have been hesitant to condemn Mugabe.

Besides political problems, Zimbabwe is also facing severe economic conditions.

The south African country has been suffering from an economic meltdown in which there is even a shortage of the most basic necessities. The once abundant nation faces inflation at 100,000 percent and an unemployment rate of about 80 percent.

Yet despite the drastic shortage on food, the government has banned aid groups from working in the country since June 5. The government accused the agencies of supporting the opposition - a claim that the agencies have denied.

John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said he is very concerned about the 2 to 4 million Zimbabweans who are increasingly dependent on food aid.

"We expect a poor harvest again in Zimbabwe," Holmes said, referring to the crop of wheat expected in the coming months, according to AP.

A report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated the number of Zimbabweans suffering from food security will rise to 3.8 million between July and October, and more than 5 million between January and March 2009.