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Saturday, 2 March, 2002, 14:33 GMT
Blair's warning over Zimbabwe
Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Deferral was a personal setback
Tony Blair has warned the reputation of the Commonwealth could be damaged if it fails to take tough action against Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

The Commonwealth heads of government summit in Australia has deferred a decision on whether to suspend Zimbabwe from the 54-country organisation until Sunday.

Following the move, the prime minister said he was hopeful that should Mr Mugabe win the forthcoming presidential election then suspension would follow.


Obviously I would prefer to have the suspension now because it's absolutely clear what's happening

Tony Blair
He also warned that if observers concluded the election, which has been tainted by reports of violence and intimidation, was unfair then it would be "essential" for the Commonwealth to act.

Meanwhile, in London, 200 exiled Zimbabweans and pro-democracy activists gathered to call for free elections in the African country.

They chanted traditional peace songs and waved banners saying "Zimbabwe is dying" outside the Zimbabwean High Commission.

Taurayi Chamboko, 30, from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, said he had been threatened with death by Mr Mugabe's henchmen if he continued with his work as an activist with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Zimbabwe exiles
Zimbabwean exiles take to London's streets

"Mugabe's thugs were coming in the middle of the night, taking people away and beating them, and some lost their lives during these beatings," he alleged.

Some of the activists are also staging a 36-hour hunger strike in front of the commission in The Strand.

Mr Blair said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change could still win the poll on 9 and 10 March.

He added that if Mr Mugabe refused to accept a victory by his rival Morgan Tsvangirai, the Commonwealth had to act.

The prime minister said: "There is a disagreement here about tactics, because some of the African countries feel it is wrong to suspend Zimbabwe at this moment.

'Setback'

"But I do think it's essential for the credibility of the Commonwealth that if after the election in Zimbabwe the Commonwealth observers report there was malpractice and intimidation during the election, we take action if Mr Mugabe is still in power."

Conceding the agreement to defer the decision was a personal setback, the prime minister added: "Obviously I would prefer to have the suspension now because it's absolutely clear what's happening, but in a few days' time we will know one way or the other."

The four-day summit will continue with further talks on the fight against international terrorism and the role of the organisation itself in the 21st century.

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The BBC's James Robbins
"It's been a very tense weekend"

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See also:

02 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Zimbabwe crisis talks delayed
01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair urges action on Zimbabwe
28 Feb 02 | Africa
Mugabe rival sues over video
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