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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 19:01 GMT
Leaders agree on African union
Colonel Gaddafi with Togo President Eyadema
Gaddafi (right) has been the driving force behind the unity plan
African leaders have agreed on the creation of an African union.

A declaration was made at the conclusion of a two-day extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) held in Sirte, Libya.

The meeting, hosted by Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, was called to discuss proposals to set up an African union similar to the European Union.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
South Africa is one of the crucial backers of the plan
An African union will not, however, come into existence immediately as not enough countries have formally ratified the treaty.

Institutions

Included in the union plan are a pan-African parliament, a court of justice and a central bank.

In a declaration released on Friday afternoon the signatories "solemnly declare the creation of an African union by unanimous agreement."

All 53 OAU member states have signed up to the declaration.

However, in order for the declaration to come into effect two-thirds of OAU members, in other words 36 countries, need to ratify the agreement.

Still waiting

At the last count 31 countries, including South Africa and Nigeria, have signed up.

When the thirty-sixth country ratifies the treaty there will be another extraordinary meeting in Sirte.

The BBC correspondent in Sirte, Caroline Hawley, says that Friday's declaration is a face saving formula for Colonel Gaddafi.

He was expecting that this meeting would see the formal declaration of an African union.

Nevertheless, the summit itself, which drew more than 40 heads of state, is still a triumph for Colonel Gaddafi, who is trying to promote himself as Africa's elder statesman.

Tight security was maintained throughout , by a force of men called the 'Green Tigers', their t-shirts emblazoned with pictures of a snarling tiger face.

The marbled hall where the gathering took place was hung with vast portraits of the Libyan leader.

Whatever the future of the planned African Union, Colonel Gaddafi for the moment is basking in the lime-light.

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