Accessibility links

Commonwealth Ministers Debate Zimbabwe's Membership - 2002-03-02

Commonwealth Ministers meeting in Australia have held talks on the membership status of Zimbabwe in advance of formal meetings Saturday. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is scheduled to officially convene Saturday in the Australian coastal resort town of Coolum. But ministers comprising the eight-nation Commonwealth Ministerial Action group met Friday to decide whether to suspend Zimbabwe from the organization for growing political violence there.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon would not disclose what was decided at the meetings, but expressed concern about the situation in Zimbabwe, less than two weeks before presidential elections are scheduled to be held. He says reports from a number of international organizations in the country say the situation there is deteriorating.

Britain is among the nations pushing for Zimbabwe to be suspended from the 54-member group. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters Friday there is no place in the commonwealth for a government which is prepared to inflict such suffering on its people.

President Robert Mugabe, struggling to maintain his 22-year grip on power, has been widely criticized for policies seen as stifling the political opposition and civil liberties ahead of the March 9th and tenth election.

More than 20 people have died - most of them opposition supporters - in political violence since the first of the year. The Commonwealth is made up of Britain and its former colonies.