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Obasanjo to meet Mugabe on Commonwealth summit issue

17th November 2003

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Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo arrives in Harare today for a meeting with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe over next month's Commonwealth summit in Nigeria, the state-controlled press reported yesterday.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the 54-member grouping of mostly former British territories in March last year in the wake of international condemnation of Mugabe's flawed victory in presidential elections.

Nigerian and Commonwealth officials have confirmed he has not been invited to the gathering in Lagos on December 5 to December 8.

The government mouthpiece The Sunday Mail gave no indication whether there had been any change of heart by the Nigerian government over Mugabe's non-invitation, and said only that "Zimbabwe's participation (in the summit) is expected to feature prominently".

The independent weekly Standard newspaper, however, quoted unnamed diplomatic sources as saying that Obasanjo "wanted to convey personally the reasons why Nigeria has not invited the Zimbabwean leader".

The Sunday Mail quoted acting Nigerian high commissioner to Zimbabwe Kayode Laro as confirming that Obasanjo, who will host the summit, would be in Harare for a one-day visit.

His trip follows reports that he is trying to "sneak Mugabe in through the backdoor" of the summit. However, Obasanjo's last statement over Mugabe's presence, in September, was that there would have to be "a sea change" in Zimbabwe for Mugabe to be invited.

The Commonwealth's observer mission to the elections, along with the other handful of specialist election observer groups allowed to monitor the vote, condemned Mugabe's election as neither free nor fair.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the body shortly after and the government was given a list of democratic reforms to carry out in order for the suspension to be lifted.

These included the abolition of repressive laws used by the regime to paralyse the opposition, the establishment of independent and free and fair electoral system, the restoration of press freedom and other constitutional rights, the adoption of a transparent system of land reform and substantive progress in negotiations between the regime and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Commonwealth secretary general Don MacKinnon said on Friday that "despite all our best efforts, all our attempts at establishing dialogue (with Mugabe's regime) have been spurned and we have seen the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorate continuously".

The Sunday Mail also pointed out that the summit coincided with a major meeting of the rank and file of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, where there is speculation the 79-year-old Mugabe may set in train moves for a successor in preparation for his retirement.

Tomorrow the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the national labour movement, plans to hold a major demonstration in Harare to protest against political repression and the collapse of the economy, which observers expect to be forcibly crushed by authorities.

No public demonstration of any significant size has been allowed to take place since April 2000, and thousands have been assaulted, arrested and tortured for participating. – Sapa.
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