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South Africa has rejected the European Union's united position that President Robert Mugabe is no longer Zimbabwe's legitimate leader.
Instead, President Thabo Mbeki said that Zimbabweans should negotiate their own political settlement, without any outsiders specifying what the outcome of these talks should be.
"The result that comes out of that process of dialogue must be a result that is agreed by the Zimbabweans," said Mr Mbeki on South African radio, after returning from a summit of the African Union, also attended by Mr Mugabe.
"And certainly, the African continent has not made any prescriptions about the outcomes of what Zimbabweans must negotiate among themselves," added Mr Mbeki.
The European Union, by contrast, has adopted a single position on Zimbabwe, stating that the result of the first round of the presidential election must be held as binding. The official result of this poll gave Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition candidate, first place with 48 per cent of the vote and Mr Mugabe second with 43 per cent.
France, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said this should be taken as the will of Zimbabwe's people. "The French presidency, along with the (European) Commission, is clear: the government is illegitimate if it isn't led by opposition leader Mr Tsvangirai," said Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister.
South African mediators, acting for Mr Mbeki, have already been in touch with Mr Tsvangirai's faction of the Movement for Democratic Change. The African Union has officially endorsed the creation of a coalition government.
But Mr Tsvangirai today rejected that option. "A government of national unity does not address the problems facing Zimbabwe or acknowledge the will of the Zimbabwean people," he said.