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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 17:35 GMT
African leaders seek Zimbabwe solution
Mugabe welcomes Mbeki at Harare airport
Mugabe in festive mood with the South African president
The leaders of two key African nations have held separate talks with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his political opponent Morgan Tsvangirai in an effort to resolve the crisis created by his disputed election victory.

The responsibility to solve the problems of food shortages and economy, rest first and foremost with the leadership of Zimbabwe

Thabo Mbeki
South African President Thabo Mbeki and his Nigerian counterpart Olusegun Obasanjo declined to comment on the specific nature of the talks, but there is speculation that they were exploring the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition MDC.

The South African and Nigerian presidents are flying to London for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday to decide whether Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's main trade union Monday called a three-day general strike starting on Wednesday to protest against what they described as the post-election harassment of workers.

Earlier on Monday, a white farmer was shot dead near his homestead - the tenth such killing since militants began often violent occupations of white-owned land two years ago.

Food crisis

In a brief press conference after the talks, Mr Obasanjo said it was up to Zimbabwe's political leaders to resolve the current situation in Zimbabwe in order to prevent further violence and chaos.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (l) with South African President Thabo Mbeki
Mbeki (right) said that the country's economic crisis had been discussed
"Whatever the ordinary people of Zimbabwe have done, voted or not voted, they need to be assisted," he said.

"That help may not come unless the leaders of Zimbabwe put their arms together and work together in a way that brings hope in this country."

Mr Mbeki also acknowledged that Zimbabwe's impending economic crisis had been discussed.

"It is really time that the responsibility to solve the problems of Zimbabwe - the problems of food shortages and economy - rest first and foremost with the leadership of Zimbabwe," he said.

Differing reports

As he left for the meeting in London, Mr Howard said this was "quite a moment of truth.

"The Commonwealth has been held together by a number of things and one of them has been a common commitment to democracy.

"We have to face, fairly and squarely, the responsibility we've been given," he said.

Commonwealth observers issued an interim report condemning Zimbabwe's election, which has also been criticised by the United States, the European Union and the UK.

However, many national African monitoring teams described the result as fair.

No compromise

Senior aides to Mr Obasanjo were quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying the Nigerian leader was unlikely to back Zimbabwe's suspension.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo is "unlikely" to back Zimbabwe's suspension
For his part, the South African president said on Saturday that, while Zimbabwe's fate would have to be decided by Zimbabweans, the outside world did have a right and duty to speak out about what was happening there.

South Africa's position on Zimbabwe is particularly important, partly because it has political weight and economic leverage - it is the most powerful economy in southern Africa and it supplies Zimbabwe's fuel and power.

BBC Southern African correspondent Barnaby Phillips says neither side in Zimbabwe appears ready to compromise.

Mr Tsvangirai says Mr Mugabe is no longer relevant to the search for a solution to the country's economic and political crisis and should step down.

At his inauguration ceremony on Sunday, Mr Mugabe vowed to accelerate his controversial programme of land reform and said his victory was a triumph against "British imperialism".

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"There is a new factor now"
Political Analyst Moeletsi Mbeki
"We have allowed the situation to escalate"
Bill Saidi of The Daily News, Harare
"I think expulsion from the Commonwealth would worry Mr Mugabe"

Key stories

The vote



Should Zimbabwe be suspended from the Commonwealth?



19310 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Africa
Mbeki faces Zimbabwe test
14 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Straw condemns Mugabe 'tragedy'
13 Mar 02 | Africa
Africa backs Mugabe win
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe enacts media curbs
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Africa goes easy on Mugabe
17 Mar 02 | Africa
Mugabe pledges rapid land reform
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