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Moment of truth for Africa as Mugabe nears the exit; Hain appeals for world to act to help Zimbabwe.

Byline: Tomos Livingstone Political Editor

ZIMBABWE'S main opposition party last night denied it was in discussions with President Robert Mugabe's team on the veteran leader relinquishing power.

Earlier, a businessman close to the state electoral commission and a lawyer close to the opposition had said talks were under way to ease out Mugabe, who in 28 years in power has gone from independence hero to accused despot.

Mugabe is said to be trailing in the presidential vote, but Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said at a news conference, "There are no discussions."

"Let me inform you there is no way the MDC will enter into any deal before the electoral commission has announced the results," Mr Tsvangirai said in his first public appearance since Saturday's vote.

Mr Tsvangirai's party has claimed victory in elections that hinged on the destruction of the economy with people suffering to survive inflation soaring beyond 100,000%.

Meanwhile, the former Cabinet Minister Peter Hain says today the international community must not repeat its "colossal failures" in Zimbabwe.

Writing in today's Western Mail, the Neath MP, who made his name as anti-apartheid protester in the 1970s, said Mugabe and his allies should be offered a safe route out of the country if necessary.

Mr Hain, a former Africa Minister, says, "This is a moment of truth for Africa and especially the Southern African neighbours.

An African solution to this African crisis is needed now.

"The truth is that Zimbabwe represents a colossal failure of diplomacy - for Britain, for South Africa, the EU, UN, Commonwealth - for everyone concerned.

And the consequences have been shocking."

Mr Tsvangirai yesterday urged the electoral commission "to proceed with haste, and I think two-and-a-half days is not haste at all." He said his party would release its own complete tallies today.

For the first time in this election, resultswere posted on the doors of the 9,000 polling stations in the country, allowing groups like the MDC to compile independent results.

This initiative, part of an agreement between the parties negotiated by South African President ThaboMbeki, could make it more difficult to cheat.

The commission has released results for 152 of the 210 parliamentary seats - giving Tsvangirai's party 77 seats, including five for a breakaway faction, to 75 for Mugabe's ruling party.

The commission has offered no results in the presidential race.

Political analyst John Makumbe said he had learned from military sources that they would respect the results of the elections.

In a statement, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network said that according to its random representative sample of polling stations across the country, Tsvangirai won just over 49% of the vote. A presidential candidate needs at least 50%plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

CAPTION(S):

ON THE BRINK President Robert Mugabe, seen here with his wife Grace, faces election defeat
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 2, 2008
Words:476
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