HARARE, Zimbabwe - President Robert Mugabe hinted at early elections yesterday, saying his party should be preparing to avoid a repeat of his loss in March.

Mugabe spoke at the close of a two-day conference of his ZANU-PF party. He told about 5,000 party loyalists that elections would be held if a power-sharing plan collapsed.

The unity-government agreement Mugabe signed in September with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has stalled in a dispute over which party should control key cabinet posts. And recent violence has left many wondering whether the plan is workable.

The political impasse has left Zimbabweans virtually leaderless as they suffer economic and humanitarian crises.

Independent human-rights groups have accused Mugabe's regime of stepping up attacks on dissidents in recent weeks.

Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said Friday that he would ask his party to halt power-sharing negotiations unless political detainees were released or charged by Jan. 1.

"The MDC can no longer sit at the same negotiating table with a party that is abducting our members and other innocent civilians and refusing to produce any of them before a court of law," Tsvangirai said.

The MDC also has proposed new elections as the only way to resolve the standoff, but only under international supervision.

Mugabe, 84, lost March presidential elections to Tsvangirai. Official results said Tsvangirai did not win enough presidential votes to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff, held in June and widely denounced as neither free nor fair.