October 21, 2008 3:00 am

Zimbabwe neighbours urged to 'knock sense' into Mugabe

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Zimbabwe's neighbours must "knock some sense" into Robert Mugabe, the opposition said yesterday, after Morgan Tsvangirai, its leader, boycotted talks on forming a power-sharing government.

Mr Tsvangirai refused to travel to Swaziland for a meeting with four regional leaders and the Zimbabwe president after he was denied a passport. The temporary document he was granted would have obliged the prime minister-designate to spend the night sleeping rough at Johannesburg airport in South Africa.

"The denial of a passport is a symptom of the real problem," Tendai Biti, chief opposition negotiator, said. "There is no recognition by the party of Robert Mugabe . . . that the people spoke against the dark and evil past for a change."

The talks were last night postponed for a week and relocated to Harare, Zimbabwe's capital. But the incident underlined a lack of trust in the discussions.

Political paralysis has gripped Zimbabwe since Mr Tsvangirai won a victory over Mr Mugabe in March's first-round election. Central to the deadlock was the struggle for the home affairs ministry portfolio, people familiar with the talks said. That ministry would run the police - accused by the -opposition of being the regime's main instrument of repression.

Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change also insists that Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party relinquish the finance ministry, which has overseen the economy's collapse. Some 5m people are on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.

James McGee, the US ambassador to Harare, said Mr Mugabe's party was -trying to cling to ministries to prevent "potential prosecutions of Zanu-PF officials for corruption".

Mr Mugabe's spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Mr Biti urged the Southern African Development Community, the 15-member regional bloc, to convene a summit. "Someone has to knock some sense in [to] Robert Mugabe," he said.

Regional dynamics have changed with the ousting as South African president of Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the power-sharing deal.

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