Zimbabwe parliament adopts Mugabe succession bill

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HARARE, Sep 20 (Reuters) Zimbabwe's parliament today passed a compromise bill giving veteran President Robert Mugabe room to pick a successor after the measure was watered down to curb his powers to appoint legislators.

The 83-year-old Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has ignored calls for democratic reforms in Zimbabwe and denies accusations of widespread human rights abuses.

The constitutional bill, which won support from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), will enable parliament, dominated by his ruling ZANU-PF, to choose a successor if an incumbent president fails to finish his term.

The proposed law was passed by all 111 members of parliament -- from both the government and opposition benches -- who were in the chamber.

Mugabe faces few political challenges from a weak and divided opposition so the ZANU-PF could maintain dominance after joint parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008, analysts say.

Mugabe has vowed to crush opponents in the polls but analysts say he may use the bill to craft a smooth exit and anoint a loyalist to succeed him while ruling from the sidelines.

The MDC on Tuesday said it would not oppose the bill, after a compromise to limit Mugabe's powers to appoint members of parliament.

But the opposition party said it would keep pressing the government to change the constitution and repeal tough security and media laws.

The official Herald newspaper said in an editorial yesterday the revised bill addressed demands raised by the MDC.

''It is our hope that those in the MDC will use the debate on the bill to put across their concerns instead of waiting to make the usual noises in the event of defeat,'' it said.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the compromise was a result of talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF, brokered by a regional initiative led by South African President Thabo Mbeki.

The mediation efforts were launched after a violent police crackdown on Zimbabwe's opposition in March.

Zimbabwe is grappling with a deep economic recession that critics blame on Mugabe's policies, primarily his government's seizure of white-owned commercial farms to redistribute to landless blacks.

Yesterday, workers ignored a stay away call by the main labour union to protest at a government wage freeze and the deteriorating economy.

Mugabe denies he has wrecked the economy and accuses the West of sabotaging it to punish him for the land seizures he says were meant to redress colonial land imbalances.

REUTERS SKB RK2010

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