July 1, 2008

African Union calls for unity govt in Zimbabwe

By Opheera McDoom

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - The African Union called on Tuesday for a national unity government in Zimbabwe after the widely condemned re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a violent poll ruled unfair by monitors.

A summit of the pan-African body, which had been divided over what to do about Zimbabwe, adopted a resolution calling for Mugabe to enter negotiations with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the election because of violence.

The resolution fell short of the much tougher statement wanted by some African nations but it was a rare AU intervention in an internal political dispute and an unprecedented rebuff to Mugabe, previously feted as a liberation hero.

Before the two-day summit ended, Zimbabwe's neighbor Botswana called for Mugabe to be barred from both the AU and southern African regional body SADC.

It was the toughest public statement from one of Zimbabwe's neighbors since Mugabe was sworn in on Sunday following a one-candidate election condemned by monitors and much of world opinion as violent and unfair.

"In our considered view... the representatives of the current government in Zimbabwe should be excluded from attending SADC (Southern African Development Community) and African Union meetings," Botswana Vice President Mompati Merafhe said, according to a text of his remarks.

Botswana said Mugabe's participation in African meetings "would give unqualified legitimacy to a process which cannot be considered legitimate." It said the government and opposition must be treated as equal in any mediation.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has also called for Mugabe, 84, to be suspended from the AU after an election which extended the veteran leader's 28-year rule.

European Union president France said the EU would only accept a Zimbabwean government led by Tsvangirai, echoing a Western position that Mugabe was now an illegitimate leader.

Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of the election on March 29 but withdrew from the runoff after he said pro-government militias killed 86 of his supporters.


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