South African President Thabo Mbeki Meets With Zimbabwe Rivals

South African President Thabo Mbeki spent more than eight hours in talks Sunday with Zimbabwe's president and opposition leaders, trying to resolve a deadly political dispute.

Reporters saw Mbeki and main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai head into private talks first at a Harare hotel. After that meeting, which lasted about an hour and a half, Mbeki and Mugabe held talks.

Reporters were then cleared from the area of the talks, which also had been expected to include Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller, breakaway opposition group. Some eight hours after the Tsvangirai-Mbeki meeting, reporters were still awaiting a progress report. The meeting room where the agreement paving the way for the talks had been announced last month was again set up for a press conference or announcement, but there was no word of when or whether a statement would be made.

Police, soldiers and agents of the feared intelligence service provided security.

Mbeki has been brokering talks between Mugabe and Tsvangirai after March elections led to waves of violence across the country.

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. Now both men claim to be Zimbabwe's legitimate leader.

The Sunday Mail, a government mouthpiece, reported a major obstacle had been cleared, saying "a common position" had been reached that would allow Mugabe to remain president. But opposition officials, citing a news blackout Mbeki has imposed, refused to confirm or deny the Mail report.

Tsvangirai has said that while he could work with moderates in the president's party, he will not share power with Mugabe. A possible compromise could involve Mugabe being named a largely ceremonial president, with few powers but with immunity from prosecution for his alleged human rights abuses.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai met face-to-face for the first time in a decade after they signed a memorandum of understanding July 21, which set a framework for meetings between Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the opposition.

The talks broke down July 28, with officials saying the problem was Mugabe's insistence that he be the president of any new government. But talks resumed a week ago, and within days produced an indication that both sides were determined to work together toward a solution: both Mugabe's ruling party and the opposition issued their first joint communique condemning the country's political violence.

The talks have chiefly involved top deputies of the party leaders and been held at an undisclosed location in the South African capital of Johannesburg.

Mbeki is under pressure to show results before hosting a summit this weekend of the Southern African Development Community, the body that appointed him as mediator.