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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 20:02 GMT
Zimbabwe row mars summit finale
Robert Mugabe
Mugabe continues to dominate from afar
The Commonwealth summit is over, but has been overshadowed by Zimbabwe's decision to withdraw from the body.

President Robert Mugabe pulled out following the 54-nation bloc's decision to suspend Zimbabwe indefinitely.

The issue split Commonwealth leaders, with South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia opposing the suspension.

Nigeria, which hosted the summit in Abuja, plans to send an envoy to Zimbabwe before Christmas to explore ways of opening dialogue.

President Olusegun Obasanjo pledged to do "everything humanly possible" to press for Zimbabwe's return.

And he criticised as "unethical" summit leaders who said the suspension decision had been pushed through without consensus.

Commonwealth split

Mozambique's President Joaquim Chissano accused the Commonwealth of using tactics of "pressure and punishment".

"The organisation did not reach this decision by consensus," he said. "We are unhappy because we cannot accept these undemocratic procedures."

The BBC's Barnaby Mason in Abuja says several southern African states still see Robert Mugabe primarily as a leader of the liberation struggle against white colonialism.

He says the summit has provoked resentment at what some see as white arrogance and manipulation.

Mr Mugabe said the decision to maintain Zimbabwe's suspension indefinitely was "unacceptable" and pulled Zimbabwe out with immediate effect.

The UK, Australia and New Zealand led calls for a tough stance on Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe quits and quits it will be
Robert Mugabe

"It is not a crisis for the Commonwealth, but it is a crisis for Zimbabwe," said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Zimbabwean ruling party senior official Didymus Mutasa said they were glad to have pulled out.

"This is like an escape from hell because Britain and its white allies have turned the Commonwealth into a Zimbabwe lynching club," he said.

Correspondents say Mr Mugabe's move in effect removes any leverage or pressure that Commonwealth leaders can use with Zimbabwe and leaves the careful diplomacy of the Abuja summit in tatters.

Commonwealth officials and leaders of countries like Britain, Australia and Canada will now have to work hard to restore the organisation's sense of unity.

On the other hand, the BBC's Barnaby Mason says the Commonwealth is often criticised for being ineffective, and a failure to insist on its principles would, arguably, have done more damage.

Key issues, such as poverty alleviation, trade and Aids, were discussed at the summit, but were rarely mentioned by journalists covering the event.

Reconciliation demand

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth last year after an election widely seen as flawed.

Mr Mugabe had earlier threatened to leave the organisation if the country was not "treated as an equal".

UK, Australia, New Zealand
Kenya, Ghana, Caribbean
South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique

After the Commonwealth decision was taken, he received explanatory phone calls from Mr Obasanjo, as well as South African President Thabo Mbeki and Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson.

In response, Mr Mugabe said the decision was unacceptable as Zimbabwe would settle for nothing short of the removal of the suspension.

"Anything that you agreed to on Zimbabwe which is short of this position - no matter how sweetly worded - means Zimbabwe is still the subject of the Commonwealth," he said.

Commonwealth spokesman Joel Kibazo said the group wanted Zimbabwe to return and would work to continue trying to engage with its government.

'Right outcome'

Before Zimbabwe's decision, Mr Obasanjo was given the crucial role of deciding whether Zimbabwe had progressed enough for it to return to the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon [left] with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at press conference
Obasanjo (right) had been charged with monitoring Zimbabwe's progress
He said Zimbabwe could probably have returned within "months rather than... years".

Mr Mugabe had already indicated his response would be to pull out if the Commonwealth decided to maintain his country's suspension.

It is entirely in character, sadly... and it is a decision which he and particularly the Zimbabwean people will come to regret," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

In a speech at the end of his Zanu-PF party's conference in Masvingo on Saturday, Mr Mugabe had harsh words for the grouping.

Commenting on Zimbabwe's suspension, and his lack of an invitation to the summit in Nigeria, he likened the Commonwealth to characters in George Orwell's novel, Animal Farm, where some members are more equal than others.

The BBC's James Robbins
"The debate over democracy by African leaders could hardly have been more vigorous"

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