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Mugabe could call end to 28-year despotic regime.

Byline: By Dave Jones

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe is considering standing down after 28 years of rule, it emerged last night.

His advisers were holding talks with main opposition leader Morgan Tvsangarai, according to a businessman close to the state electoral commission and a lawyer close to the opposition.

And it was reported from inside the country that Mugabe was also in talks with military chiefs and opposition politicians, chaired by South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki.

Talks were still continuing, with no deal signed, according to the reports.

If Mugabe does agree to stand down he is expected to make the announcement in a TV address to the nation.

The businessman source said Mugabe, who has gone from independence hero to accused despot over the course of his rule, has been told he is far behind Mr Tsvangirai in preliminary results from Saturday's presidential elections. Mugabe was told there could be an uprising if he were declared the winner, the businessman said. No official results have yet been issued in the presidential ballot.

Mugabe's and Mr Tsvangirai's advisers were discussing a "transitional arrangement," the lawyer said. Both sources spoke on condition they were not identified.

Several diplomats said they had heard similar reports but could not corroborate the information.

Mr Tsvangirai yesterday repeatedly postponed a promised first public statement since the elections.

Zimbabwe's security chiefs have told the Electoral Commission to issue results portraying a close race, to prevent celebrations that could ignite violence with rival party militants, the businessman said.

The opposition already has claimed victory in the elections that hinged on the destruction of the economy with people suffering to survive inflation soaring beyond 100,000 per cent.

The commission has released results for 142 of the 210 parliamentary seats also up in the election. They give Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change 72 seats, including five for a breakaway faction, to 70 for Mugabe's ruling party.

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

That would indicate a change of heart - security chiefs the day before the elections warned they would not serve anybody but Mugabe and would not tolerate an opposition victory.

Martin Rupiya, a military analyst at South Africa's Institute for Strategic Studies and a former lieutenant-colonel in the Zimbabwe army, said he had heard of the military's involvement in negotiations for Mugabe to step down.

The election result "has compelled the military, the hawkish wing and the other moderates, to begin to reconsider accommodating the opposition," he said. "Because of the nature of the wins they have been forced to reassess."

Mr Tsvangirai has vowed not to enter an alliance with Mugabe but has said previously that he is ready to negotiate an exit package. He also has said that Mugabe should be tried for human rights abuses, possibly in an international court.

It appeared Mugabe was persuaded into talks by the possibility of a run-off in the presidential race, which the businessman said he would find too demeaning.

On Monday 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 per cent of the vote. A presidential candidate needs at least 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a run-off.

A run-off would have to be held within 21 days, leaving it close to the 28th anniversary of independence on April 18, 1980. Mugabe, who led a guerrilla movement that fought a seven-year war to end white minority rule, regards the anniversary as a potent symbol of his rule.

Mugabe will also have to weigh the concerns of those who have profited from his patronage, a group that includes top military leaders, officials in his ZANUPF party and business people. They receive mining concessions, construction contracts and preferential licenses to run transport companies and other businesses.

Because of the nature of the wins they have been forced to reassess Martin Rupiya

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A pedestrian passes an election poster and newspaper banner headline in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 2, 2008
Words:681
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