Commonwealth Summit Ends Divided on Zimbabwe | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 05.03.2002
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Commonwealth Summit Ends Divided on Zimbabwe

The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting has wrapped up in Coolum, Australia. But many Commonwealth leaders expressed frustration over the meeting.


Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and the future of the former British colony caused controversy

The Commonwealth meeting was plagued by problems even before it began.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, or CHOGM as it's called, was supposed to have taken place last October. But the terrorist attacks of September the eleventh caused it to be postponed, and when the new date was set for March only a third of the Commonwealth's leaders could attend.

Then came the issue that dominated this gathering. The leaders argued about Zimbabwe all weekend, and on Monday declared that they'd postpone any decision until after the election.

On Tuesday, some of them expressed disgust at that decision and even disappointment in the Commonwealth. "I think the commonwealth has to get its act together for

the future," New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark said. She was one of four leaders at CHOGM to push for stronger action against Zimbabwe.

"I hope we don't have another CHOGM like this one," Clark added. "We're not standing the evidence of a failure to observe the fundamental principles of the Commonwealth regarding a member state sitting around the table."

British prime minister Tony Blair also expressed frustration that no action was taken against what he sees as a dictatorial regime in Zimbabwe. "They have an election where there's massive intimidation and violence sponsored by the state," Blair said. "It's a totally detestable state of affairs. And we should act."

But Clark and Blair were careful not to blame their host, Australian Prime minister John Howard, for the climbdown. They agreed with Howard's assessment - it was the best deal he could get.

The issue of Zimbabwe overshadowed other problems tackled by the Commonwealth leaders.

In a final declaration delivered on Tuesday, they condemned terrorism and voiced concern about what they called the AIDS pandemic. The leaders declared that world poverty was unacceptable but emphasized the benefits of globalization.

They also gave passing mention to an issue that many small island states in the commonwealth wanted given much more attention - global warming. The final declaration recognized that this was a major problem for island states, which are in danger of being flooded out by rising sea levels. But with host nation Australia one of the biggest per capita energy producers, no solution was offered.

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