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Zimbabwe quits Commonwealth

Robert Mugabe

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Robert Mugabe
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- Zimbabwe pulled out of the Commonwealth on Sunday after the organization's leaders extended a suspension imposed after a widely criticized election last year.

The government said in a statement that President Robert Mugabe told the leaders of Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa when they phoned him one after another Sunday that Harare did not accept the Commonwealth's position.

"Accordingly, Zimbabwe has withdrawn its membership from the Commonwealth with immediate effect," it said.

A summit meeting of the group, comprising 54 nations that are mostly former British colonies, on Sunday decided not to readmit Zimbabwe after suspending it last year on grounds that Mugabe rigged his re-election and persecuted his opponents.

The issue dominated the summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja, splitting the group along lines of race and wealth.

The Zimbabwe government said the three leaders who called tried to persuade Mugabe not to quit:

"In response, President Mugabe indicated to each of the three leaders that the decision was unacceptable, as the Republic of Zimbabwe would settle for nothing short of its removal from the Commonwealth suspension and agenda."

It said Mugabe told them: "Anything that you agree on Zimbabwe which is short of this position, no matter how sweetly worded, means Zimbabwe is still a subject of the Commonwealth. This is unacceptable. This is it -- it's quits and quits it will be."

The summit opened the way for a possible return if Zimbabwe engaged in reconciliation with the opposition.

'Racist leaders'

But the government statement said Mugabe also indicated he would not discuss the issue with any leader because Zimbabwe was no longer a member of the group.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said Sunday's decision by the Commonwealth, which also includes Britain, had proved beyond doubt that "racist leaders in Britain and Australia" had taken over the organization.

"These racist leaders are using the Commonwealth to try to punish us over our land reform program and, by withdrawing our membership, we are saying we have no wish to compromise on the question of achieving social justice for our people," he said.

"Our problem with Britain and Australia is over the land we took over from their white kith and kin to redistribute to the indigenous black people of this country. ...

"If good governance means that black people should forever live as servants and poor and as inferior citizens to white people, we don't accept it," Moyo said.

Mugabe insists he won last year's election fairly and says Western governments, principally Britain, have sabotaged Zimbabwe's economy in punishment for his distribution of white-owned commercial farmland to landless blacks.

'Irrational decision'

The main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, said Mugabe had no right to leave the Commonwealth.

"It's an irrational decision by Mugabe because, in the state that we are in, we need friends and mediation. But Mugabe says because his pride has been hurt we must suffer," said spokesman Paul Themba-Nyathi.

Political analysts said Mugabe had isolated himself further but that Zimbabwe's withdrawal also robbed the Commonwealth of a platform to influence his government.

"Mugabe might have his own problems, but the Commonwealth is not looking glorious as well," said Heneri Dzinotyiwei of the University of Zimbabwe.

"We might talk about Mugabe and about brinkmanship, but the Commonwealth has also badly damaged itself in the manner in which it handled Zimbabwe."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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