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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 08:40 GMT
Q&A: Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth
Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (l) of Nigeria and Robert Mugabe (r) of Zimbabwe
Obasanjo (l) decided last week not to invite Mugabe (r)
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has pulled out of the Commonwealth after leaders of the grouping's 54 members decided at their annual summit in Nigeria to continue Zimbabwe's suspension. BBC News Online looks at the key questions:

What will the pull-out mean?

Mr Mugabe's move leaves his country even more isolated diplomatically from the west.

Any leverage or pressure that they could have brought to bear on him by the Commonwealth has now been lost.

It is unlikely that any African states will follow Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth.

But Mr Mugabe's decision does expose divisions within the Commonwealth - and means countries like Britain and Australia will have to work hard to restore the organisation's sense of unity.

For Zimbabwe, its southern African neighbours are the only nations still able to engage with the leadership in Zimbabwe.

And they will be aware that the withdrawal can only be bad news for those seeking to end the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, which is already having a grave impact on their own countries.

How did the Commonwealth fall out with Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth after Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election in March 2002.

The Commonwealth observer group said the election was held in a "climate of fear".

The opposition says the election results were rigged and their supporters attacked, raped and murdered during the campaign.

Mr Mugabe, who was not invited to the December summit, said he was being victimised by the "white section" of the grouping of mainly former British colonies.

Was the decision to suspend Zimbabwe unanimous?

Far from it.

South Africa had lobbied for Mr Mugabe to be invited and Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo earlier this year said the situation in Zimbabwe had greatly improved.

Mugabe's regime is just a passing storm and the hardest thing is enduring through it.
Vadharah, Harare, Zimbabwe

Mr Mugabe says that his re-election was free and fair and accuses Britain of using the club of its former "white" colonies to gang up on him because of his policy of taking white-owned land and giving it to blacks.

Some African and Asian countries instinctively sympathise with such arguments and find it difficult to publicly criticise Mr Mugabe.

Mr Obasanjo only made it clear that Mr Mugabe would not be invited a week before the summit began.

Is Zimbabwe being unfairly singled out for criticism?

Mr Mugabe certainly thinks so.

And the governments of many former colonies say they cannot be expected to hold multi-party elections just a few decades after independence, when the UK, for example, took hundreds of years to make the transition from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy.

Human Rights Watch point out that the host, Nigeria, has its own human rights problems and its elections in April certainly had their flaws.

While Uganda is only now moving to allow multi-party elections, which Zimbabwe has held non-stop since independence in 1980.

However, Zimbabwe is the only country where the government is accused of organising militias nationwide to intimidate the opposition, often with the support of the state security forces.


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