HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe's ruling party floated a proposal idea Wednesday for forming a government of national unity led by President Robert Mugabe as a way out of a political crisis that has dragged on for weeks.
The overture, given a prominent place in the state-owned Herald newspaper, could create room for discussion and diplomacy, but the opposition's leader rejected any role for Mugabe in a coalition administration for this struggling southern African country.
"There is no possibility of a government of national unity," Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said while visiting neighbouring Mozambique seeking to drum up regional support against Mugabe.
The Herald also reported that the first results from a recount of 23 parliamentary races from March 29 elections confirmed a victory for Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in a district east of the capital.
Initial returns showed Mugabe's party losing control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, and the opposition and international critics of the government fear the recount is designed to overturn that result and bolster the president.
No results at all have been released for the residential race, which Tsvangirai is widely believed to have won. International pressure has been growing on Mugabe to report results and ensure they are not rigged in his favour.
The essay on a unity government appeared in a spot on the Herald's editorial page often reserved for denunciations of the opposition. Its writer, identified as Dr. Obediah Mukura Mazombwe, is not well-known, leading to speculation the byline might be a pseudonym for a prominent ruling party official.
A governing coalition negotiated by leaders of the 14-country Southern African Development Community would be "the most viable and safest way forward," the article said. Such a government could reform the constitution and organize new elections under international supervision, it said.
The essay suggested that regional leaders, along with "the progressive international community," bring together key players: Mugabe's party, the opposition, Britain and the United States.
"The situation in Zimbabwe is dire, but all is not lost. Whilst the ruling party must stop behaving like a wounded buffalo, the opposition must stop its hysterics and lapses into delusion," it said.
"The West, particularly the Anglo-American establishment, should stop insisting that President Mugabe and ZANU-PF cannot be part of a future prosperous Zimbabwe," it added.
The essay said a transitional arrangement should include the resumption of western financial assistance and a guarantee of safety for Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders, so they could "come home and start playing a constructive national role."
Tsvangirai has called for an "inclusive government" with places for ZANU-PF politicians and others, but not for Mugabe, who has been accused of orchestrating brutal crackdowns on his foes and of wrecking the economy.
"We cannot talk of a unity government because the MDC has won outright," Tsvangirai said in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, on Wednesday.
However, the suggestion of a unity government got support from Jacob Zuma, the head of South Africa's ruling African National Congress and the potential next president of the regional powerhouse.
"The fact of the matter is there is a crisis because of the elections," he said while in London for talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "You need, therefore, for the two parties to be part of any solution - and a solution could be that. Why not if it helps Zimbabwe?"
Zuma and Brown described the situation in Zimbabwe as unacceptable and resolved to "redouble" efforts to get election results published.
"We call for an end to any violence and intimidation and stress the importance of respect for the sovereign people of Zimbabwe and the choice they have made at the ballot box," the two leaders said in a joint statement.
Brown called for an international arms embargo on Zimbabwe after a Chinese ship carrying arms bound for Zimbabwe was stopped from unloading its cargo in South Africa last week because of worries that they might be used against Mugabe's opponents.
Unions and church and human rights groups across southern Africa have rallied against allowing the Chinese freighter An Yue Jiang deliver the weapons to ports in any of landlocked Zimbabwe's neighbours, and they were bolstered by behind-the-scenes pressure from the United States.
"Because of what has happened in South Africa, where there is an arms shipment trying to get to Zimbabwe, we will promote proposals for an embargo on all arms to Zimbabwe," Brown told legislators during his weekly House of Commons question session.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, meanwhile, headed to South Africa and also planned to visit Angola and Zambia to bolster international pressure on Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai met with Mozambican President Armando Guebuza as well as former head of state Joaquim Chissano on Wednesday as part his tour to rally support among African leaders.
Chissano, a chief mediator in Uganda's conflict in central Africa, told reporters that Tsvangirai asked him to mediate in Zimbabwe as well. But he said there was little he could do, saying it was in the hands of the Southern Africa Development Community leadership.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, appointed by the regional leaders as the chief mediator on Zimbabwe, has been increasingly criticized for his handling of the matter, with critics complaining he isn't taking a strong stance against Mugabe.