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Mugabe to confront critics at African Union summit

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe will confront his critics at a summit of the African Union on Monday, fresh from victory in a one-candidate election which observers said was scarred by violence and intimidation.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe attends his inauguration at State House in Harare, June 29, 2008. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Heads of state of the body, meeting in Egypt, are likely to press him to enter talks with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to end political crisis in a country whose economy, wrecked by hyperinflation, has produced millions of refugees.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged support for international action against Mugabe’s government, including U.N.-authorized sanctions and an arms embargo.

But the AU seems reluctant to back calls for sanctions, favoring instead a Kenyan-style power-sharing transition.

In an apparent response to pressure for talks, Mugabe said in an inaugural speech on Sunday he was committed to dialogue with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Tsvangirai has said his party is also committed to AU-sponsored talks, although no negotiations have started. But he added he would ask the AU not to recognize Mugabe’s re-election.

The MDC said the AU should not welcome Mugabe at the summit.

“I don’t think it would be right for the African Union to welcome him after all he has done,” Thokozani Khupe, MDC vice president, said in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

“I think it is important that the African leaders break the silence. It is high time they call a spade a spade.”

She said she had no plans to talk to the Zimbabwean delegation on the sidelines of the summit. Officials in Harare said Mugabe was due to leave for Egypt late on Sunday night.

The Egyptian summit may be split between critics of Mugabe, like Kenya, and opponents of any action against him led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been widely criticized for taking a soft line with his neighbor.


Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga was quoted as saying on Sunday that the AU should deploy troops.

“What is happening in Zimbabwe is a shame and an embarrassment to Africa in the eyes of the international community and should be denounced,” he said.

But AU security chief Ramtane Lamamra played down the prospects of peacekeepers being sent.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said it was important the two parties talked, adding it was too soon to talk of foreign peacekeeping forces being sent to Zimbabwe.

“There has to be some sort of negotiations between the parties,” he said. “If not, polarization will be the result.”

He added: “There cannot be a sustainable solution to the Zimbabwean crisis under the leadership of one or the other party.”

Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said Africa had to help prevent civil war in the country.

Mugabe began another five-year term on Sunday after being declared overwhelming winner of an election which observers said was scarred by violence and intimidation.

Mugabe, 84 and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, was quickly sworn in to allow him to attend the summit.

Tsvangirai withdrew a week before the election, saying a systematic campaign of violence had made a free and fair ballot impossible. Mugabe won 85.51 percent of the votes, according to the electoral commission.

Human rights groups and witnesses accused pro-Mugabe militias of forcing people to vote in some areas.

Regional observers said the ballot did not reflect the will of Zimbabweans, adding that pre-election conditions fell short of Southern African Development Community (SADC) principles and guidelines for elections.

Pan-African parliament observers said it was so flawed it should be rerun.

Writing by Gordon Bell and Barry Moody; editing by Andrew Roche