JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Zimbabwe's government quickly distanced itself from an editorial in the state-run newspaper yesterday that called for a transitional unity government headed by the country's longtime strongman, Robert G. Mugabe, until new elections could be organized.
Zimbabwe has been plunged into political crisis since its disputed elections last month, with the government refusing to announce who won the race for president. Still, the ruling party has repeatedly argued that neither Mugabe nor his chief rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, won a majority of the votes, forcing the two into a runoff.
But yesterday, The Herald, the state-run newspaper often used as a mouthpiece for Mugabe and the ruling party, described the country's political dynamics as "so distorted that holding a free and fair election runoff in the immediate term is literally impossible."
Swiftly disavowing that position, Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC yesterday that the editorial had not been sanctioned by the government and that the ruling party, ZANU-PF, was still gearing up for a runoff.
Despite its grip on the nation, the ruling party has endured rifts and recriminations over its poor showing in the elections, particularly its loss in the lower house of Parliament. The mixed signals from the state-run paper and the government raised the possibility of continued divisions within the ruling apparatus.
For its part, Zimbabwe's main opposition party, which says it won an outright victory in the March 29 elections, immediately rejected the proposal and any resolution of the crisis that left Mugabe in power.
Meanwhile, in Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in Parliament that he would "promote proposals for an embargo on all arms to Zimbabwe," but gave no further details. Amid the political crisis in Zimbabwe, its government has been awaiting a shipment of Chinese-made bullets, mortars and other weaponry, but the prospect of the delivery when opposition supporters are being beaten and harassed has raised an international uproar. On Tuesday, China said it might turn the shipment around.
At the behest of the ruling party, Zimbabwean authorities have undertaken a recount in 23 parliamentary constituencies - enough to swing back control of Parliament to ZANU-PF. The leading opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has denounced the recount as an effort by ZANU-PF to steal an election it lost and reclaim its majority in Parliament.
The idea of a unity government was put forward in The Herald by Obediah Mukura Mazombwe, an academic at a university that counts Mugabe as its chancellor.
The article argued that a power-sharing government be formed, with Mugabe at its head. It also pressed for an end to sanctions that largely freeze the foreign assets of Zimbabwe's top officials and bar them from traveling to Western nations.
"Whilst the ruling party must stop behaving like a wounded buffalo," the article said, "the opposition party must stop its hysterics and lapses into delusion."
But the opposition categorically rejected any government headed by Mugabe.
"We are prepared to engage progressive forces in ZANU-PF, but the future of Zimbabwe must exclude Mugabe," said Nquobizitha Mlilo, a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change. "He's the author of the problems we have."
Over the past decade, as Mugabe's rule has become more authoritarian and the country's economy has crumbled into ruins, he has counted on the open support or tacit acquiescence of other African leaders, but that solidarity appears to be cracking.
Still, it is far from clear that any outsiders - even those in his own region - can influence Mugabe or the military leaders around him.
South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has acted as the main mediator in the crisis and has pursued a policy of "quiet diplomacy" that many critics here have likened to appeasement of Mugabe.