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Sunday, 10 March, 2002, 07:55 GMT
Charles 'blasts Commonwealth'
Lesie de Jager, 34, a white farmer from Lions Den, attacked 06 March 2002 on his farm by settlers, arrives at a hospital in Harare
There has been political violence in Zimbabwe
The Prince of Wales has said the Commonwealth deserves "contempt" if it does not stand up for liberal democracy and human rights, it has been reported.

According to the Sunday Times, the prince said the organisation was "drinking in the last chance saloon".

He said the election and how Zimbabwe was treated by the Commonwealth was "the biggest test since it had been created".

But the organisation was "failing the test and this was causing long-term damage to its credibility".

Prince Charles on tour in Mexico
Charles: Commonwealth "failing its biggest test"
The prince spoke after Commonwealth leaders agreed not to take punitive action against Zimbabwe in the run-up to this weekend's presidential poll, despite widespread reports of violence, intimidation and vote-rigging.

He was also reportedly appalled by the treatment meted out to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair - who had called for immediate action - at their meeting.

He described anti-white comments by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and other leaders as "distressing".

He said failing to act over Zimbabwe will raise the question of what the Commonwealth is for, and said "dictators shuffling round the place is pretty unedifying".

Commonwealth Day

The prince's comments come on the eve of Commonwealth Day, an annual celebration of the organisation of 50 or so mainly former British colonies.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
Thabo Mbeki: One of those against punitive action
The day will be celebrated by the prince and the Queen, at events at Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.

Charles could succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, although some of the organisation's leaders have reportedly said in the past that it is not necessarily a hereditary post.

The prince's comments echo similar comments from Mr Blair on Commonwealth "fudging" and "credibility".

He told the House of Commons last week that it must act on Zimbabwe's "clear violations" of the core Commonwealth values of good government, tolerance and racial harmony.

"The credibility of the Commonwealth itself is at stake. The procedures laid down... are clear and action must follow, up to and including suspension," he added.

Instead of suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth at the summit in Australia, leaders opted for urging President Mugabe to end the political violence.

They also set up a three-member committee to decide possible action, based on the findings of the group's election observers deployed in the country.

See also:

06 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Commonwealth 'fudging must end'
04 Mar 02 | Africa
Summit strikes Zimbabwe deal
07 Mar 02 | Africa
The Commonwealth's dilemma
05 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Acid test for Commonwealth
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