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Mugabe Said to Be Negotiating Possible Exit

Mugabe Said to Be Negotiating Possible Exit By THE NEW YORK TIMES

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Advisers to President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe are in talks with the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, amid signs that Mr. Mugabe may be preparing to resign, a Western diplomatic source and a prominent Zimbabwe political analyst said Tuesday. The negotiations about a possible transfer of power away from Mr. Mugabe come after he apparently concluded that a runoff election would be demeaning, a diplomat said.

A resignation by Mr. Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, would be a stunning turnabout in a country where Mr. Mugabe has been accused of consistently manipulating election results to maintain his lock on power.

There is no guarantee the negotiations will succeed and the situation could still unravel. But a Western diplomat and a political analyst said the opposition was negotiating with Zimbabwe’s military, central intelligence organization and the country’s prisons chief.

“The chiefs of staff are talking to Morgan and are trying to put into place transitional structures,” said John Makumbe, a political analyst and insider in local politics who has spoken in the past in favor of the opposition.

A spokesman for Mr. Tsvangirai, George Sibotshiwe, said: “I don’t know anything about such meetings.”

Mr. Tsvangirai scheduled a news conference for 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. Eastern time).

The diplomats said the joint chiefs had urged the negotiations after becoming convinced that there was no palatable alternative to a transfer of power and that a run-off following Saturday’s presidential election would lead to defeat for Mr. Mugabe. One Western diplomat said the heads of the armed forces advised Mr. Mugabe on Monday to engineer a second round run-off in the presidential race but Mr. Mugabe responded that a run-off would be a humiliation to him.

More than three days after the vote, the government had still not released any results of the presidential balloting. Under Zimbabwe’s election rules, a runoff would be required if no candidate got more than 50 percent. However, Reuters quoted unidentified sources in Mugabe’s party as saying it had projected Mr. Tsvangirai got 48 percent of the vote, versus 43 percent for Mr. Mugabe.

The nation has lingered in political limbo since Saturday, because of the election commission’s silence on the results of the presidential race, raising concerns that Mr. Mugabe was intent on rigging the outcome.

But with the talks now underway, the political ground seemed to be shifting rapidly, away from Mr. Mugabe.

Mr. Mugabe, 84, has led Zimbabwe since 1980. Crafty and ruthless, he is not a man likely to easily give up his hold on power, analysts, diplomats and Zimbabweans have long contended.

That has left this nation, and a good bit of the world, wondering how he will survive what seems a repudiation by his countrymen, most of whom have become unemployed under his rule. The nation now suffers from an inflation rate of 100,000 percent.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change, had already used the few parliamentary results posted so far to declare victory.

Tendai Biti, the party’s secretary general, said Monday that unofficial tallies of more than half the votes showed Mr. Tsvangirai with 60 percent and Mr. Mugabe with 30 percent.

“We are at the moment of liberation from a dictator,” Mr. Biti said. However, the government had warned the opposition about declaring victory prematurely.

Graham Bowley contributed reporting from New York.