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Summit opens in Zambia to end Mugabe impasse PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 14 April 2008

An emergency regional summit has opened in Zambia aimed at ending deadlock over Zimbabwe''s presidential elections, reports BBC.

However, Zimbabwe''s President Robert Mugabe is not at the summit - he said he had other business to attend to. Zambia''s president opened the forum, saying it could not turn a blind eye to Zimbabwe, but that Mr Mugabe was not "in the dock".

South African President Thabo Mbeki met Mr Mugabe earlier on Saturday and said there was "no crisis" in Zimbabwe. Mugabe''s Zanu-PF party lost its House of Assembly majority for the first time since 1980 in the 29 March poll, but no results have yet been released from the presidential race.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he won the vote, and hopes leaders will pressure Mr Mugabe to step down. Opening the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Lusaka, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said it could not "stand by and do nothing when one of its members is experiencing political and economic pain".

"It would be wrong to turn a blind eye," he said, but added that the summit was "not intended to put President Mugabe in the dock". Mr Mwanawasa called on Zanu-PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to "seize the opportunity to turn over a new leaf".

He said there was "concern" in the SADC that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had not announced presidential poll results, which had "given rise to a climate of tension" and "left the international community in the dark".

Correspondents say the summit can achieve little without Mr Mugabe there, which is why Mr Mbeki stopped in Harare first. Mbeki called for patience over the unreleased results.

"If nobody wins a clear majority the law provides for a second run. If that happens I would not describe it as a crisis. It''s a normal electoral process," he said. Mbeki has led mediation efforts between the two Zimbabwean sides since last year, but his "quiet diplomacy" approach has been criticised by some as ineffective.

The BBC''s Peter Greste, in Johannesburg, says that rather than risking a public rebuke from his colleagues in Zambia, President Mugabe is sending a delegation of government ministers. The state-run Herald newspaper quoted Foreign Affairs Secretary Joey Bimha as calling the summit "unnecessary" because the votes were still being counted.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, part of Zimbabwe''s delegation to the summit, told AFP news agency that his country would not accept Mr Tsvangirai''s participation in the meeting. Ahead of the summit, the MDC urged the African leaders to "speak strongly and decisively against the dictatorship". MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said Zimbabwe was "at a crossroads" and the summit was a "critical meeting" for his country and the region.

The summit comes amid growing pressure on Mr Mugabe to release the results of the presidential poll. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown made his most scathing comments yet on Mr Mugabe.

"I cannot understand why it is taking so long to announce the result of the presidential elections," Mr Brown said in a statement released late on Friday.

"I am appalled by the signs that the regime is once again resorting to intimidation and violence." Mr Mugabe responded on Saturday by saying: "I know Brown, he''s a little tiny dot... on this world."

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