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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Africa's big day
Zulu warriors dance in front of flags representing the nations of Africa
Goodbye OAU, hello AU
Celebrating the traditional as well as the modern, Africa threw a birthday party for its new African Union (AU) in Durban, South Africa, on Tuesday.

You are marching to glory!

Muammar Gadaffi

It is intended to be people-orientated, in contrast to what critics have described as the Organisation of African Unity's (OAU) "dictators' club".

A crowd of 20,000 attended the ceremony in Durban which started with the booming drums of Zulu warrior dancers and a choral ensemble who mimed to a recording of the new African Union anthem.

Nationalist hero Nelson Mandela provided a poignant backdrop for the historic launch at a sports stadium revered by Durban's minority whites as the home of a beloved rugby team.

South Africans carrying posters of African leaders in Durban
The older generation of African leaders could feel threatened by AU powers

He was joined by parachutists descending from the sky, as well as bare-breasted Zulu maidens on parade.

Then came the speeches.

"Africa for the Africans," Libya's purple-robed Muammar Gadaffi, the man who came up with the idea of a " United States of Africa", told the crowd in fractured English.

"The land is ours! You are the masters of your continent! You are marching to glory!"

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who is the first AU chairman, said the aim must be to end African conflicts and eradicate poverty, disease and ignorance.

"This is a moment of hope for our continent and its peoples."

Mr Mbeki's AU's staff will include Amara Essy of Ivory Coast, the outgoing OAU secretary general, who has been named as the new President of the AU's commission.

Nelson Mandela and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi
A roll call of African leaders at the AU bash

Senegal's soccer team was on hand to epitomise the continent's sporting prowess.

They did a lap of honour, fresh from their quarter-final placing in the World Cup in Japan and Korea.

"Maybe with this launch we can show the world that Africa is united," Senegalese star El Haji Diouf told Reuters news agency.

"We can show them that with Africa united, no one can stand before it and that we would win in any endeavour."

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Durban
"All leaders here want an African union"
President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki
"The time has come that Africa takes a rightful place in global affairs"
Africa analyst Richard Dowden
"The sort of union they are commiting themselves to is going to be hard to achieve"
The historic summit should create a new African Union.

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See also:

24 Jun 02 | Business
25 Jun 02 | Business
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