Zimbabwe's political crisis deepened on 14 November with the withdrawal of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, from the moribund power-sharing deal with President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF.
An MDC communiqué at the end of a national council meeting said it would peacefully campaign against any unilateral government appointed by Mugabe, and called for fresh elections under international supervision.
The party defended its decision on the grounds that, since the signing of the power-sharing agreement on 12 September, Mugabe had pursued an "obstructionist approach" and an "entrenched power-retention agenda" for the ZANU-PF party.
The MDC alleged that this included the "crafting of an assassination plot, codenamed Operation Ngatipedzenavo, intended to eliminate the MDC leadership", amid a wider campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at the party "and the people of Zimbabwe".
The communiqué rejected a resolution passed by leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on 9 November, urging the formation of an all-inclusive government to save the faltering agreement.
The MDC accused the SADC of mistakenly narrowing the sticking points to only control of the home affairs ministry and police, ignoring the unresolved logjams over the distribution of other portfolios, the appointment of provincial governors, permanent secretaries and ambassadors. IRIN was unable to get comment from ZANU-PF.
The power-sharing deal, brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki, appointed as mediator by the SADC, was meant to fairly apportion ministries between ZANU-PF, Tsvangirai's MDC, and a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara.
Mugabe was to retain the presidency, while Tsvangirai was to become prime minister and have a say in the running of the government until new elections in 2012. But no constitutional amendment was passed to create the post of premier, and the deal was quickly overcome by bickering over posts and powers.
Mugabe is now expected to form a government without Tsvangirai – which many fear signals a return to the extreme levels of violence that racked the country during this year's election, when over 80 MDC supporters were killed.
|Everybody knows that ZANU-PF has no solution to the country's problems, and everyone was hoping that Tsvangirai will agree to come into the government and solve our problems|
The MDC won the 29 March legislative poll and Tsvangirai beat Mugabe into second place in the presidential vote, but fell short of the 50 percent plus one ballot required for a first-round victory.
Tsvangirai withdrew from the presidential run-off, citing the political violence, which left Mugabe as the sole candidate. However, the election was condemned regionally and internationally as unfree and unfair.
Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, received the news of the MDC's withdrawal from the unity deal with mixed feelings.
Martha Moyo, 28, said she was disappointed. "Everybody knows that ZANU-PF has no solution to the country's problems, and everyone was hoping that Tsvangirai will agree to come into the government and solve our problems."
Jabulani Sithole, 36, said the MDC was justified in refusing to take part. "It is clear that Mugabe did not want the MDC in government, because he should have negotiated in all earnestness, but giving them useless ministries was an indicator that the talks are dead, and what is left now is for the talks to collapse."
The MDC was condemned as "unpatriotic" by Nhamo Tsunga, 40. "These people [MDC] just want power, and they do not care how much we are suffering. The MDC should have just agreed to join government, and then sort out the other issues when they are in government. All this shows that they are selfish, and they are doing these things for themselves and not for the people."
Zimbabweans have been battered for years by shortages, lack of social services, and an inflation rate estimated at 231 million percent in July.
A trio of elders - former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, former US president Jimmy Carter, and rights activist Graca Machel - are due to visit Zimbabwe next week to try and focus global attention on the humanitarian crisis.