July 1, 2008 / 6:52 AM / 9 years ago

African Union calls for unity govt in Zimbabwe

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.

DEEP RIFTS

The summit in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was dominated by a deepening political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, whose once prosperous economy is racked by the world’s highest rate of inflation, food and fuel shortages and 80 percent unemployment.

The Botswana statement underlined the deep rifts both within Africa as a whole and among Zimbabwe’s neighbors over how tough to be with Mugabe. The summit overran by several hours because of the attempt to reach consensus on the issue.

Regional power South Africa, the designated mediator in Zimbabwe, has resisted open condemnation. The summit called for SADC mediation, which has been led by President Thabo Mbeki, to continue.

Mbeki is under criticism in the region and at home for what is seen as ineffective mediation that favors Mugabe.

Mugabe made a long address to the final session of the summit in which he attacked his critics both in Africa and outside but did not object to the resolution, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told reporters.

George Charamba, spokesperson for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, talks to the media at the African Union summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh July 1, 2008. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

“There was a lengthy debate, many views were put forward including very critical views of the Zimbabwean ruling party and the president,” Zaki said.

Summit delegates said earlier the leaders were divided between those who wanted a strong statement about Zimbabwe and others who were reluctant to publicly censure Mugabe.

The adopted resolution was submitted by a security troika of SADC comprising Tanzania, Swaziland and Angola, which had called for the vote to be postponed.

Negotiations look like being difficult despite the pressure from the summit, which called on the two sides to refrain from action that “may negatively impact on the climate of dialogue.”.

Mugabe spokesman George Charamba earlier rejected ideas being floated for a Kenyan-style power-sharing deal and MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti, who was jailed for two weeks before the vote, said there was no chance of negotiations.

Biti said Mugabe’s decision to go ahead with the June 27 election “totally and completely exterminated any prospects of a negotiated settlement.”

Slideshow (28 Images)

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the party would respond to the AU resolution on Wednesday.

The resolution said summit leaders were deeply concerned by the situation, but were convinced the Zimbabwean people “will be able to resolve their differences and work together once again as one nation, provided they receive undivided support from SADC, the AU and the world at large.”

In a sign of the depth of divisions, Charamba accused Odinga -- who has called for Mugabe to be expelled from the AU -- of having bloodstained hands from the crisis in his country, in which 1,500 people died earlier this year.

“Odinga’s hands drip with blood, raw African blood. And that blood is not going to be cleansed by any amount of abuse of Zimbabwe. Not at all,” he told reporters.

Odinga joined a power-sharing government with President Mwai Kibaki under an AU-backed deal to end the Kenya crisis.

Tsvangirai left the Dutch embassy in Harare on Tuesday after taking refuge for more than a week, the Dutch government said.

As expected, the summit did not back a U.S. push for United Nations sanctions against Mugabe, including an arms embargo.

So far only Western powers have imposed financial and travel sanctions against the Zimbabwean leader and his top officials.

(For further stories on Zimbabwe please click)

(Additional reporting by Cynthia Johnston and Daniel Wallis in Sharm el-Sheikh, Nelson Banya and MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare,

Marius Bosch in Johannesburg; Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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