His comments came as President Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, prepared to take part in a weekend summit of southern African leaders aimed at sorting out Zimbabwe's election mess.

  

Regional leaders were converging on the Zambian capital Lusaka for Saturday's extraordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community to consider the crisis.

  

The prospect of Tsvangirai and Mugabe facing off across the conference table became real on Thursday when both men's parties confirmed they would attend.

 

Mbeki meeting

  

The same day, Tsvangirai met Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, in the capital Pretoria, officials said.

 

Mbeki has come under fire for failing to condemn the long delay in announcing the result of the presidential election.

  

"The meeting went well. The details of it are not at this stage for public consumption," Nqobizitha Mlilo, an MDC spokesman, said on Friday.

 

As international pressure mounts for Zimbabwe's poll results to be released amid opposition claims Mugabe might use violence to cling to power, Mbeki has stuck to his policy of quiet diplomacy, saying the situation was "manageable."

 

Outcome pending

 

Thirteen days on from the country's presidential election on March 29, there has still been no announcement on the outcome.

 

While Mugabe's ruling party says there must be a run-off, the opposition says Tsvangiari won outright.

  

A legal bid by the opposition to force Zimbabwe's electoral commission to declare the result is still under consideration by a judge and no decision on the matter is expected until Monday, at the earliest.

  

Not only is the ruling party contesting enough seats in the simultaneous parliamentary elections to overturn a slim opposition majority, but it has also demanded a total recount of the presidential vote.