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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 19:41 GMT
Commonwealth suspends Zimbabwe
food queue in Harare
Food queue: Zimbabwe suffers chronic shortages
The Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe from the organisation's councils for a year with immediate effect.

Speaking in London, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the measure had been taken after the Commonwealth's observer group concluded that Zimbabwe's presidential election had been marred by high levels of violence.

Prime Minister John Howard of Australia
John Howard: "Reconciliation essential"
The Commonwealth had mandated a committee comprised of Mr Howard and the presidents of Nigeria and South Africa to decide on sanctions against Robert Mugabe's government.

Our correspondent says the punitive action is one of the most serious the 54-nation organisation can impose, and means that the Zimbabwean Government is not considered an acceptable one.

Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, told state television it was a "bad decision" based on a "bad report".

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) welcomed the decision.

"[It] vindicates what we've been saying all along," MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube told the French news agency AFP.

Mr Howard said the issue would be revisited in 12 months' time, and would consider "progress in Zimbabwe based on the Commonwealth-Harare principles and reports from the Commonwealth secretary general."

Reconciliation

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnnon told the BBC that the situation in Zimbabwe was "very fragile and no-one wants to exacerbate it".

He said the observer group had concluded that the electoral process was "distinctly flawed".


Commonwealth observers' findings

  • High level of politically motivated violence and intimidation
  • Zanu-PF's paramilitary youth group largely responsible for intimidation
  • Restrictions on independent local observers
  • Lack of transparency in the registration process
  • Polling stations reduced in urban areas
  • Many unable to vote in Harare and Chitungwiza because process was too slow
  • Limitations on freedom of speech and movement hampered opposition campaign


  • The issue was, he said, to see how the Commonwealth could reduce tensions and aid reconciliation in Zimbabwe.

    John Howard called on the international community to respond to the "desperate situation", especially of food shortages.

    He added that the committee "strongly supported" the initiatives of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Nigeria's Olesegun Obasanjo in "encouraging the climate of reconciliation" between the main political parties of Zimbabwe.

    He said the initiatives were "considered essential to addressing the issues of food shortages, economic recovery, the restoration of political stability, the rule of law and the conduct of future elections".

    More sanctions

    Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has demanded fresh elections, ruling out early talks with Mr Mugabe, whom he accuses of having rigged the vote.

    "Objective conditions do not exist for meaningful talks," Mr Tsvangirai told reporters in Harare, where the Commonwealth "troika" met him and Mr Mugabe separately on Monday

    Meanwhile, trade unions have called a three-day general strike starting on Wednesday to protest against alleged violence against workers in the aftermath of the election.

    Switzerland has announced it is imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe, including a freeze on financial assets which might be held by government officials in Swiss banks.

    Denmark also said it was closing its embassy in Harare and halting development aid to Zimbabwe.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
    "In the country the violence continues"
    Zanu-PF external relations secretary Didymus Mutasa
    "It is time that Zimbabwe should remove itself from the Commonwealth"
    Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
    "The Zimbabwe government must take this very seriously"

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    See also:

    19 Mar 02 | Politics
    19 Mar 02 | Media reports
    18 Mar 02 | Africa
    17 Mar 02 | Africa
    14 Mar 02 | Politics
    01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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