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Southern Africa leaders meet on Zimbabwe stand-off

Zimbabwe`s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai lobbied regional leaders at a security summit on Thursday to stop what he says is a crackdown by President Robert Mugabe ahead of expected polls.

Livingston: Zimbabwe`s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai lobbied regional leaders at a security summit on Thursday to stop what he says is a crackdown by President Robert Mugabe ahead of expected polls.

The security organ of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) opened its summit with a warning from the host, Zambian President Rupiah Banda, that the region should heed the lessons of popular uprisings in north Africa.

"If there is anything that we must learn from the upheavals going on in the northern part of our continent, it is that the legitimate expectations of the citizens of our countries cannot be taken for granted," Banda said.

"We must therefore continue at the SADC level to consolidate democracy through the establishment of institutions that uphold the tenets of good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law," Banda said.

"The issues that we will be addressing require decisive resolutions in charting the future of our regional body," Banda said.

In practice SADC has shown little willingness in the past to intervene in the infighting within Zimbabwe`s unity government, created under an accord brokered by the regional bloc more than two years ago.

Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe`s ZANU-PF party of stepping up a campaign of violence and intimidation against his supporters, including a wave of arrests of top party officials, activists and journalists.

Tsvangirai has toured the region for the two last weeks to drum up support for stronger action.

Both men say they are ready for elections that would put an end to the transitional unity government, but Tsvangirai says he wants SADC to lay out a "roadmap" to polls.

South African President Jacob Zuma and Mozambican President Armando Guebuza both attended the summit as members of the "Troika" security body, with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba also attending as SADC`s current chair.

Tsvangirai has met with all four leaders in the run-up to the summit to discuss his grievances against Mugabe.

Long-time rivals Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed their unlikely unity government in February 2009 in a bid to end rampant violence surrounding disputed 2008 elections and stem an economic crisis that saw hyperinflation hit world-record levels.

But the regional bloc has shown reluctance to step in when the deal has faltered.

The agreement envisaged a new constitution within 18 months, followed within six months by fresh elections. But the process, which has been marred by renewed political violence, is running nearly a year behind schedule.

While the power-sharing government has succeeded in halting the economy`s tailspin, mainly by ditching the local currency, Tsvangirai and Mugabe have repeatedly locked horns over implementing the deal.

The prime minister accuses the 87-year-old president of reneging on the agreement by unilaterally filling the key posts of central bank governor and attorney general.

As Mugabe has moved to exit the deal by calling for new elections this year, Tsvangirai has complained that police are being used to arrest and harass his supporters, as well as journalists and activists.

"SADC leaders have not shown any commitment to take President Mugabe head on," said Dewa Mavhinga, head of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an umbrella body for Zimbabwean activists.

"We are concerned that SADC does not appear to be treating the issue of Zimbabwe with the seriousness that it deserves," he said on the sidelines of the summit.

The Troika is also set to discuss Madagascar, stuck in political limbo since opposition leader Andry Rajoelina toppled president Marc Ravalomanana with the army`s backing two years ago.

Bureau Report

From Zee News

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