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Zimbabwe suspended from 54 nation britain commonwealth { December 4 2003 }

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Zimbabwe suspension threatens division as Commonwealth of Britain and former colonies meet
GLENN McKENZIE, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2003
2003 Associated Press

(12-04) 06:58 PST ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) --

Britain and its former colonies are trying to keep differences over Zimbabwe from dividing a Commonwealth summit that opens this week, fearing a split between richer Western nations and developing countries.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the 54-nation body in 2002 following the disputed re-election of President Robert Mugabe and charges of human rights violations.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Zimbabwe has not yet earned the right to rejoin the group, but two African leaders have pledged to campaign for its return.

Mugabe himself is to be absent from the debate -- summit host Nigeria made clear last week he wasn't welcome. Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some other Pacific nations have threatened to boycott the gathering if Mugabe attends.

The Commonwealth wields its prestige, and the threat of suspension, as the main instruments for change in its member nations.

Rather than easing measures against Zimbabwe, Britain expects to discuss toughening them, a spokesman said Thursday.

In the southern African nation of Malawi, President Bakili Muluzi took off for the summit with a promise to intercede on Zimbabwe's behalf.

"The position of Malawi is to encourage the international community to create a window of assistance to Zimbabwe so that the people do not suffer," Muluzi told reporters. "The issue of isolating Zimbabwe cannot resolve the problems in Zimbabwe."

Muluzi said, however, that some of Zimbabwe's laws, which "are not meant to benefit the people," should be repealed.

Mugabe's government has used sweeping new security and media legislation to crack down on the political opposition and shut down the country's only independent daily newspaper.

Zambia's president, Levy Mwanawasa, declared earlier this week he would lead the campaign to have Zimbabwe reinstated.

Internationally, Mugabe's alleged abuses already have produced a marked divide -- with African nations largely keeping silent last year as rights groups and Western nations condemned his allegedly rigged re-election.

With leaders converging for Friday's start of the summit, Queen Elizabeth II continued a two-day visit to Nigeria -- her first since 1956, four years before Nigeria's independence.

The 77-year-old monarch toured a mock market 20 miles east of the capital, Abuja. The market was constructed by British Broadcasting Corp. as a set for a soap opera.

Owing to time constraints and security concerns, the market, and its actors playing Nigerian market people, was likely to be the closest the queen comes to ordinary Nigerians.

A 20-foot television screen outside broadcast her tour to those barred from the set.

"They say I am very dirty. I have no ID so I cannot enter," said James Abur, a 40-year-old truck driver who was among those watching the Queen on screen.

"I understand why she doesn't come out. The Queen would probably not be used to seeing our village. It is too dusty," said Elizabeth Ukadike, 27, as trucks sprinkled water on orange dirt tracks. "Anyway, this is a wonderful moment that the Queen of England is even here."

2003 Associated Press

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Zimbabwe suspended from 54 nation britain commonwealth { December 4 2003 }

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