Zimbabwe leaders shake hands, make pact
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai have met for the first time in over a decade to shake hands on an agreement to hold talks towards ending the political crisis in the country.
At a ceremony in Harare overseen by long-time mediator South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mugabe and Tsvangirai shook hands and said it was time to work together after one of the most bitter periods in the country's history.
"We sit here in order for us to chart a new way, a new way of political interaction," said Mugabe.
"We must act now ... as Zimbabweans, think as Zimbabweans and act as Zimbabweans," he said.
Tsvangirai, for his part, said it was time to put the "bitterness" behind him and said he was committed to finding a solution with his old rival.
"We are committed to ensuring that the process of negotiation becomes successful," he said. "We want a better Zimbabwe."
Tsvangirai hailed the signing as an "historic occasion".
"This is a very historic occasion," he said, calling the agreement "the first tentative step" towards ending the country's protracted political crisis.
Needless to say, talks will take place between their representatives.
At their first meeting in more than a decade, Zimbabwe's president and the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) today signed a five-page "memorandum of understanding" that envisages a fortnight of secret talks by their representatives dealing with an array of issues from political violence against the opposition to constitutional reform.
Mugabe, who only a few weeks ago ruled out any deal with Tsvangirai, has been forced to give ground under a myriad of pressures, including an imploding economy, described in the memorandum as a "serious matter". "We sit here in order for us to chart a new way, a new way of political interaction," he said.
Mugabe added ominously that negotiators must act without influence from the US or Europe. He has repeatedly accused the opposition of being "puppets" of the west when it has demanded he surrender power.
Tsvangirai, who won the first round of presidential elections in March but pulled out of the run-off last month after a state-orchestrated campaign of killings, torture and abductions against his supporters, said: "Not finding a solution is not an option."