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African Leaders Seek Common Ground on Zimbabwe Election Dispute

BY Admin  July 1, 2008 at 9:50 AM EDT

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe; AP photo

Mugabe is attending a meeting of the 53-nation African Union in Sharm-el-Sheikh,Egypt after claiming victory Sunday in a hotly disputed runoff election that his opponent, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, withdrew from, citing violence against his supporters.

Summit sources told Reuters that the leaders were split between those who wanted a strong statement about Zimbabwe’s election crisis and others who were reluctant to publicly censure the veteran leader.

Some summit leaders are urging Mugabe to accept some sort of Kenya-style power-sharing agreement with Zimbabwe’s opposition, news services report. Kenya was recently embroiled in its own election crisis, which was ultimately resolved by an AU-backed power sharing deal.

Zimbabwean presidential spokesman George Charamba rebuffed proposals about sharing power.

“Kenya is Kenya. Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe. We have our own history of evolving dialogue and resolving political impasses the Zimbabwean way. The Zimbabwean way, not the Kenyan way. Not at all,” Charamba said, according to Reuters.

Charamba had harsh words for Western critics: “They can go hang. They can go and hang a thousand times.”

“He [Mugabe] has come here as president of Zimbabwe and he will go home as president of Zimbabwe, and when you visit Zimbabwe he will be there as the president of all the people of Zimbabwe,” Charamba told reporters.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, one of Mugabe’s most vocal critics, told BBC radio: “The people of Zimbabwe have been denied their democratic rights. We should, in no uncertain terms, condemn what has happened.”

But Africa’s longest serving leader, Gabon President Omar Bongo, said Mugabe should be accepted as the country’s elected president, the BBC reported.

Mugabe is expected to address the AU summit later on Tuesday.

In Zimbabwe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai left the Dutch Embassy Monday after he decided that the situation had calmed enough for him to return to his home, Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Rob Dekker said.

Tsvangirai’s party dismissed a South African press report that President Thabo Mbeki was close to negotiating a deal for Mugabe and Tsvangirai to negotiate a unity government, Reuters reported.

“It is all speculation, there is nothing like that. There’s no imminent deal, no negotiations. There cannot be a deal to which we are not party,” said MDC spoksman Nelson Chamisa.

The drawn-out election crisis has worsened problems in a country already troubled by hyper-inflation and increasing poverty. Millions of economic refugees have fled into neighboring countries.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Monday that the United States may introduce a Security Council resolution to impose formal sanctions against members of the Mugabe government, the New York Times reported.

“We are looking for focused sanctions on the regime itself,” Khalilzad said, according to the Times. “Those who would oppose such action would have a lot to explain.”