Mugabe Hails Likelihood of Coalition Government

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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe hailed prospects for forming a coalition government, and criticized the West for imposing new sanctions just as the country's officials were trying to negotiate an end to their political and economic crises.

Mugabe made the remarks in a speech Monday to more than 10,000 people at a cemetery outside Harare on the holiday honoring political leaders and veterans of the struggle against colonial rule. Hours earlier, he met with opposition leaders in power-sharing talks negotiated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

During his speech, Mugabe greeted Arthur Mutambara, leader of a small opposition group, who was in the audience. But the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, did not attend the Heroes' Day celebrations.

Mbeki, Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara held closed-door talks at a Harare hotel that started Sunday morning and lasted into early Monday. Their talks resumed Monday afternoon, expanding on negotiations their deputies had been holding since Mugabe and his rivals signed a July 21 agreement setting out terms.

Mugabe called the July 21 agreement an "auspicious development (that) has paved the way for full-scale negotiations raising the prospect for an all-inclusive government." Mugabe's speech, in English and Shona, lasted about 25 minutes.

Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai claim to be Zimbabwe's leader. While power-sharing might resolve the crisis, the factions appear deadlocked over what role, if any, Mugabe would have in a coalition. Tsvangirai has said he could work with moderates from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, but not with Mugabe, while ZANU-PF has insisted Mugabe remain president.

Days after the talks framework was signed, U.S. President George W. Bush expanded the number of Mugabe loyalists subjected to travel and other sanctions. That week, the European Union broadened similar sanctions.

"It is regrettable that our detractors continue to impose more sanctions," Mugabe said in his speech. "We therefore call on Britain and its allies to remove sanctions to enable us to freely chart our destinies."

Mugabe has repeatedly accused former colonial power Britain of plotting to try to subjugate Zimbabwe again. But Monday, he did not return to his accusations that the opposition was Britain's puppet.

March elections led to waves of violence across Zimbabwe.

Tsvangirai came first in a field of four, but did not win by the margin necessary to avoid a second round against second place finisher Mugabe. Tsvangirai withdrew from the June 27 runoff because of attacks on his supporters blamed on Mugabe's party militants and security forces.

Mugabe held the runoff and was declared the overwhelming winner, though the exercise was widely denounced.