HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe swore in two vice presidents Monday, having already said his party would control all key ministries, prompting condemnation from the European Union and pushing power-sharing talks to the brink of collapse.
With opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai having threatened to walk out of the talks, former South African President Thabo Mbeki was flying to Zimbabwe on Monday to try to save the deal he originally brokered.
The EU condemned Mugabe's unilateral move. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Europeans would "play no part in supporting a power grab by the Mugabe regime."
"It is important that there is an international united response that says that the results of the elections need to be respected and a power grab will not be respected," Miliband told reporters at EU talks in Luxembourg.
While Zimbabwe's politicians grapple with each other, half of the population — 5.1 million people — faces starvation, two-thirds of children are out of school and water shortages have led to deadly cholera outbreaks in three parts of the country, according to aid agencies.
Mbeki was flying to Zimbabwe on Monday afternoon after all parties called for his intervention, his spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said. Mbeki has been chief negotiator in the dispute that erupted after elections that gave Tsvangirai's party the most votes.
On Sept. 15, Mbeki persuaded the rivals to share power, with the opposition holding 16 Cabinet seats and Mugabe's party 15. But the two sides have yet to work out details of the new government, including which side would control which ministries.
An official list of Cabinet portfolios published Saturday gave Mugabe's party the ministries of defense, home and foreign affairs, justice, mining and land, among others. It gives the opposition minor ministries, such as constitutional affairs and water management.
"That is not power sharing, it is power grabbing," Tsvangirai told thousands of supporters at a rally Sunday. He said Zimbabweans were prepared to "suffer some more" to get a more equitable agreement. Thousands of people raised their hands in agreement.
EU ministers said they were keeping "a close watch on the implementation of the agreement" signed by Mugabe and Tsvangirai. They said they would keep sanctions against Zimbabwe in place until they saw proof the deal was being implemented properly.
"Things are certainly not going well," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. "We are very worried about the situation ... We will certainly not abandon Mr. Tsvangirai. We can all see that Mr. Mugabe did not keep his promises."
The opposition said the swearing in of two vice presidents showed Mugabe was not acting in good faith. Joyce Mujuru and Joseph Msika were reinstalled in a small ceremony at the government offices. Their positions were not in dispute and according to the agreement would go to Mugabe's party.
However, opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Mugabe was not working within the "spirit of the collective" as envisaged in the agreement.
"This unilateralism will simply crush the country," he said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's central bank issued new Zimbabwean $50,000 notes Monday. Bank Governor Gideon Gono said on state radio the new bills would help people before the festive season, but they were more likely to fuel inflation that already stands at an official 231 million percent.
The new bill is worth about US$270, according to the official exchange rate of Z$185 to US$1, but the black market rate of Z$6 million to US$1 is more commonly used.
The bank also raised the daily withdrawal limit for individuals from Z$20,000 to Z$50,000, The Herald newspaper said. It said the limit for companies remains Z$10,000 to encourage them to use checks and credit cards.
State radio said the new notes were seen on the street before banks opened, saying this suggests corruption. Some bank officials are believed to have sold the notes to cronies of Mugabe who are enriching themselves off the economic crisis.