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Europe

Commonwealth Suspends Zimbabwe

The Commonwealth takes a tough stance on Zimbabwe after an election marred by political, and violent voter intimidation.

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Robert Mugabe causing a big headache for Zimbabweans

The 54-nation Commonwealth announced Zimbabwe's one-year suspension on Tuesday following the re-election of President Mugabe last week, which has been condemned by the western states as blatantly fraudulent.

The move does not amount to a full suspension, but means Zimbabwe will not be able to participate in any council meetings for the next year.

Speaking in London, Australia’s prime minister John Howard Howard said the decision to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth was at the severe end of a range of options open to the organisation.

The announcement was made after observers concluded that the election process was severely marred by a high level of political and violent voter intimidation, and did not leave voters sufficient free will.

Pushing for pressure

Britain and other industrialised countries have been pressing for Zimbabwe’s expulsion since the controversial poll on March 9 resulted in a new six-year term for President Robert Mugabe (photo).

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, during an election rally in Harare, Zimbabwe, Feb. 26, 2002 ahead of the country's elections set for March 9-10. (AP Photo/str)

Earlier this year, Britain proposed active sanctions against Zimbabwe for the first time, which were taken on by the EU, after Zimbabwe’s government pushed new laws through which allowed full control of the media and made all criticism of the state or president a public order offence.

Mugabe has blamed the country's collapsing economy on an alliance of Britain, white farmers and other "traitors" who he accuses of attempting to reverse Zimbabwe's independence.

He will is likely to use the Commonwealth decision in his presenting of opposition to his regime as a British-organised conspiracy against Zimbabwean independence - one reason why British foreign secretary Jack Straw has stressed that Britain, the country which has ben pushing hardest for sanctions, is part of an international coalition.

European assent

The move to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth councils on Tuesday was immediately welcomed by European leaders.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called Zimbabwe a country "that could create economic progress, as well as social and political stability, not just for its own citizens, but for the whole region". "When you see a country like that being driven to ruin by an irresponsible president, then it brings tears to your eyes," he said.

Other European countries have already taken action against Zimbabwe. Denmark announced on Tuesday a halt in development aid and that it was closing its embassy in Harare. Switzerland has said it will impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, including a possible freeze on financial assets in Swiss banks.

African members, however, have taken a softer approach to the election process. South Africa declared the recent polling as legitimate. South African President Thabo Mbeki and Mugabe have been allies since the 1960s, when both were fighting white minority regimes.

More hardship

Zimbabwe is now facing a nationwide three-day general strike. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has called for the strike in protest of what they say is the harassment of opposition workers since the controversial election.

The strike has been endorsed by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which says it reflects the "anger and distrust the people of this country have".

Reports from the capital, Harare, say the response has so far been patchy. Police have warned the unions that they are prepared to step in to quell any rising troubles.

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