Mugabe set to flout Commonwealth ban

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The Independent Online

President Robert Mugabe said yesterday that he expected to attend the summit of the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies despite Zimbabwe's suspension from the group.

Mr Mugabe's attendance at the summit, between 5 and 8 December in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, could prompt a boycott by the Queen and by Tony Blair, as well as the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Pacific countries. Some members of the 54-nation Commonwealth said that Mr Mugabe's presence could split the organisation.

"We look forward to attending Abuja," said Mr Mugabe after 90 minutes of talks with the summit host, Nigeria's President, Olusegun Obasanjo. The Nigerian President said he was consulting with Commonwealth leaders about a possible invitation to Zimbabwe. "I have undertaken to consult as widely as possible," President Obasanjo said.Zimbabwe was suspended by the Commonwealth after Mr Mugabe's disputed re-election last year.

The organisation's secretary general, Don McKinnon, who is from New Zealand, and John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, have repeatedly criticised Mr Mugabe for human rights violations. But state-controlled radio in Harare accused white governments of threatening to tear the organisation apart because they opposed Zimbabwe's land reform programme. White-owned farms were seized without compensation for redistribution to thousands of poor, landless blacks. While some were redistributed, manywere given to government and ruling party officials.

The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, had earlier argued unsuccessfully for an end to the suspension.

Mr Obasanjo held a 40-minute meeting with Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's main opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change. He did not comment after the meeting. (AP)