No open criticism of Mugabe at African summit

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe strode confidently into a summit of his African peers, took his seat and never flinched — as if daring anyone to challenge his right to rule.

No one in the hall did — in public at least — though some believe he had no right to join African leaders at Monday's summit after a tainted election that extended his long rule of Zimbabwe and brought a storm of Western condemnation.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Zimbabwe should be suspended from the African Union. "They should suspend him and send peace forces to Zimbabwe to ensure free and fair elections," Odinga said, speaking in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Mugabe's top rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been holed up in the Dutch Embassy in the Zimbabwean capital for a week, said Mugabe is "not the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe.''

"He is usurping the power of the people. He has brutalized his own people," Tsvangirai said.

But at the African Union summit in this Egyptian Red Sea resort, it was clear that any anger at Mugabe — and pressure for him to compromise — was only going to take place behind closed doors.

Key African leaders have long had close ties to Mugabe, renowned as a campaigner against white rule and colonialism. They are also reluctant to be seen as backing the West — and former colonial rulers — against a fellow African, and many can't claim democratic governments in their own countries.

Mugabe basked in the opportunity Monday to show regional recognition of his victory, a day after he was sworn in as president for a sixth term following Friday's runoff, in which he was the sole candidate.

In a symbolic gesture of his status, Mugabe entered the conference hall alongside his host, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

During public speeches in this Red Sea resort, most AU leaders spoke of the "challenges" in Zimbabwe. But they never said anything harsh about Mugabe and focused on other issues facing Africa. A draft resolution written by AU foreign ministers and to be approved by leaders at the two-day summit didn't criticize the runoff or Mugabe, instead calling for dialogue.

But not all African countries were silent.

Senegal's foreign minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, complained of the hesitancy to openly pressure Mugabe.

He noted some Africans argue the West should "leave us alone and we be left to decide our own destiny." But when the crisis occurs, he said, "we don't want to talk about it. That doesn't make any sense."

No open criticism of Mugabe at African summit 06/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 3:39pm]

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