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Southern African Leaders Meet on Zimbabwe

Southern African leaders are meeting in the Zambian capital to discuss the political crisis in Zimbabwe following the country's failure to release the results of its presidential poll. The embattled Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe refused to attend the summit, but did meet with South African President Thabo Mbeki ahead of the conference. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our southern Africa bureau in Johannesburg.

The extraordinary summit of southern Africa leaders was called by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa following the failure of Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission to release the result of the president poll, held two weeks ago.

Some observers say the delay has provoked a constitutional crisis, causing instability in Zimbabwe that threatens to spill over to the region.

But after an hour-long meeting with Mr. Mugabe in Harare before flying to Lusaka, Mr. Mbeki downplayed the seriousness of events in Zimbabwe, saying the Zambian leader had not billed the summit as a crisis session.

"All he [Mwanawasa] said to me was that he thought it was necessary that the region should meet to look at the electoral situation up to now and see whether it needs to say anything or do anything. And so I said fine, OK, I'm coming," he said.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which earlier said its leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential poll, now says Mr. Mugabe is in the process of staging a coup. Secretary-General Tendai Biti says Zimbabwe's military is in charge.

"The military has basically taken over, so there are some people that are governing that in this way of saying, there is a constitutional coup d'etat that has taken place there, which is why this meeting is very critical," he said.

Mr. Mbeki was clearly anxious to avoid pronouncing on the outcome until the result is officially announced.

"We are waiting. Everybody, everybody is waiting for Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to announce all the results that are outstanding," he added.

The MDC has appealed to Zimbabwe's high court to force the commission to release the election results. A ruling is expected on Monday. If no presidential candidate wins a clear majority, the law requires a second round.

Analysts speaking ahead of the Lusaka meeting told VOA that even if regional leaders break with tradition and issue a public admonishment to Mr. Mugabe, none of the leaders, including Mr. Mbeki, has any real influence in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile speakers of southern African parliaments meeting in Capetown called on the regional leaders to use their influence to end the crisis.

The speakers from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa urged the leaders to act speedily in the interests of peace and stability in Zimbabwe and the region.