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West boycotts Mugabe ceremony

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980
Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980  

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Leaders of European Union countries, the U.S. and the two most powerful southern African nations have boycotted the inauguration of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe, 78, was sworn in before 5,000 guests and seven heads of state for a new six-year term on Sunday morning after being declared winner of the March 9-11 elections.

But the West is continuing to pile pressure on Mugabe because of allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation during the campaign.

The United States, the EU, former colonial ruler Britain, local pro-democracy groups and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) all say Mugabe's re-election was unacceptably flawed.

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"It appears all those countries which have condemned or questioned the elections will not be coming to the presidency for the ceremony," a senior African diplomat told Reuters. Canada and New Zealand also boycotted the inauguration.

EU leaders, ending a summit in Barcelona, also threatened more sanctions against Zimbabwe and said it would send a team to talk to Zimbabwe's neighbours.

After the head of the EU's election observer mission was expelled from Zimbabwe in February, Brussels imposed a visa ban and a freeze on the overseas assets of Mugabe and 19 close associates.

A final communique issued on Saturday evening after the Barcelona EU summit said: "The European Union will maintain its humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe and will consider possible additional targeted measures against its government."

Britain's Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, told reporters that EU foreign ministers would consider tougher measures when they meet next month.

Many African states have endorsed Mugabe's victory, which his ruling ZANU-PF party said was a triumph over Western imperialism.

State-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said Mugabe had invited about 20 African leaders to the inauguration.

It said the presidents of Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were expected to attend the ceremony at State House.

But the leaders of Africa's two most powerful states, South Africa and Nigeria, are not expected to attend. They will instead meet Mugabe in Harare on Monday to try to ease Western pressure on his government.

ZANU-PF supporters
Mugabe's ZANU-PF supporters celebrate another presidential victory  

Diplomatic sources said on Saturday that South Africa and Nigeria had stepped up efforts to avert Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth over Mugabe's disputed victory.

They said South African President Thabo Mbeki and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo hoped to fix a political compromise before talks of the so-called troika of Commonwealth leaders in London on Tuesday who have been asked to devise a response to the election.

Mbeki and Obasanjo are members along with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Commonwealth analysts said they believed the three leaders will not advocate collective sanctions against Zimbabwe. Howard was likely to favour some form of suspension which Mbeki would oppose, leaving the deciding vote to Obasanjo, they said.


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