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African call for Zimbabwe unity government

The African Union called today for a national unity government in Zimbabwe, summit delegates said, after the widely-condemned re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a poll scarred by violence.

A summit of the pan-African body, which had been divided over what to do about Zimbabwe, adopted the resolution after Botswana called for the AU and southern African body SADC to bar Mugabe.

It was the toughest public statement from one of Zimbabwe's neighbours 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 said.

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 African Union after an election which extended the veteran leader's 28-year rule.

The Botswana statement underlined the deep rifts both within Africa as a whole and among Zimbabwe's neighbours.

Regional power South Africa, the designated mediator in Zimbabwe, has resisted open condemnation of Mugabe.

The AU summit in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh has been dominated by a deepening political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, whose once prosperous economy is racked by the world's highest rate of hyper-inflation.

Mugabe addressed the final session of the two-day summit, senior delegates said.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the poll because of the violence, which he said had killed 86 of his supporters in the Movement for Democratic Change.

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.