Leaders of Zimbabwe’s opposition movement are to meet on Friday to discuss their possible participation in a government of national unity, after South Africa announced Tuesday that following months of negotiations a deal had been agreed.

After a marathon negotiating session in Pretoria, Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa’s president, said Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, would be sworn in as prime minister by February 11 in a government led by his rival, President Robert Mugabe.

If a unity government were formed it would put into effect an accord originally agreed last September after the MDC won the first round of presidential elections but withdrew from a second round after violence against its supporters.

The latest talks in Pretoria came against the backdrop of a mounting humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, which is suffering from hyperinflation.

”All the parties expressed confidence in the process and committed to implementing the agreement,” Mr Motlanthe said.

Nelson Chamisa, an MDC spokesman, said the deal ”fell far short of our expectations”, hinting at a likely rejection by the party’s national council. ”Our case was not received; there was no objective understanding and assessment of the situation.”

However, there was speculation last night that, despite its objections, the MDC might yet agree to take part in the government.

”We had a choice of staying out and going into the political wilderness, or staying in and trying to make it work,” said one MDC supporter who has followed the talks.

The Southern African Development Community, the 16-member body under whose auspices the Pretoria negotiations took place, had backed Mr Mugabe by 13 to three in the negotiations, putting the opposition party under immense pressure.

Mr Motlanthe, who also chairs the SADC, said control of the home affairs ministry would be divided between Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC, with each party holding the portfolio - which handles policing - for six months.

When that clause was introduced into an earlier version of the agreement in November it was rejected as unworkable by the MDC.

Diplomats are adamant that there will be little support for a Mugabe-led government internationally.

”Donors are not going to rush to support a deal that is so obviously unsatisfactory,” said one, adding that he expected western donors to continue to step up humanitarian support as distinct from economic assistance.

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