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Commonwealth trio to meet on Zimbabwe

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- The leaders of South Africa, Nigeria and Australia will meet in London next week to consider whether the Commonwealth group of nations should suspend Zimbabwe.

This follows reports of intimidation and violence in the poll victory of Zimbabwe's incumbent President Robert Mugabe, who will be sworn in on Saturday despite continuing international protest against his re-election.

Commonwealth observers who monitored the controversial presidential election have already released a preliminary report saying it was held in a climate of fear and intimidation, and was neither free nor fair.

That could lead to a decision that Zimbabwe be suspended from the Commonwealth, a group of nations which were once part of Britain's colonial empire.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard said Friday he had called a special meeting for next Tuesday in London with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria.

CHOGM mandate

Howard is chairman of the Commonwealth office, given a mandate at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia recently to consider the conduct of the Zimbabwe poll.

He said he made the decision to call the meeting after consulting with Mbeki, Obasanjo and Commonwealth secretary general Don McKinnon.

"The Commonwealth Observer Group has released a preliminary report, and I expect shortly to receive the group's full report, which will be the basis for our deliberations in London," Howard said

"Circumstances clearly require our close, urgent and objective attention to the issues raised," he said.

The Zimbabwe poll, which saw Mugabe defeat his rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, has been heavily criticized by U.S. and European leaders for the intimidatory tactics used by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party supporters.

Australia's opposition leader, Simon Crean, has already urged Howard to push for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth.




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