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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 18:02 GMT
Commonwealth splits over Zimbabwe
Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo: Human rights have improved in Zimbabwe

The Commonwealth has split over whether to continue its one-year suspension of Zimbabwe beyond the middle of next month.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark has backed Australia in saying the Commonwealth should ban Zimbabwe until its summit in December.

But Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo says the Zimbabwe government has made enough progress on human rights to be re-admitted to full membership.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark
Clark says Zimbabwe should be banned until December
Later this week Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is expected to score a diplomatic victory by going to Paris for a Franco-African summit.

The issue has caused bad feeling in the European Union.

France insisted on his attendance as the price for renewing an EU visa ban and other sanctions on the Zimbabwe leadership.

Simultaneously, the question of what to do about Zimbabwe has divided the 54-nation Commonwealth, largely on black-white lines.

Last March, a Commonwealth committee of the leaders of Australia, Nigeria and South Africa suspended Zimbabwe for one year after hearing from an observer mission that the presidential election was not free and fair.

New Zealand says Zimbabwe's suspension should be extended until the Commonwealth summit in December, as Australia suggests.

'Done enough'

But President Obasanjo of Nigeria has repeated his view that Mr Mugabe has done enough to be re-admitted, especially in ending human rights violations arising from the seizure of white-owned farms.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki says Zimbabwe has responded to concerns about laws restricting the media and limiting democratic freedoms.

Mr Mbeki did not actually call for the suspension to be ended but said they were not going to go around Africa removing governments.

The disagreement in the Commonwealth is not exclusively a black-white one.

The new government in Kenya said the suspension could be lifted only by the summit and indirectly criticised democratic practice in Zimbabwe.

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Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
"Zimbabwe should be helped"

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 VOTE RESULTS
Should Zimbabwe be readmitted to the Commonwealth?

Yes
 20.68% 

No
 79.32% 

20309 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

17 Feb 03 | Africa
01 Nov 02 | Country profiles
22 Sep 02 | Africa
08 Aug 02 | South Asia
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