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Commonwealth Meeting Stalls on Zimbabwe Issues - 2002-03-03

Commonwealth leaders meeting in Australia failed for a second day to reach an agreement on how to deal with strife-torn Zimbabwe. Global warming and debt relief are also high on the agenda for the organization of former British colonies.

The political crisis in Zimbabwe continues to challenge the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting or CHOGM, in Coolum, on Australia's northeast coast. Zimbabwe's leader, Robert Mugabe, has been accused of intimidating political opponents and of vote rigging ahead of next week's presidential election.

The Commonwealth's richer nations want to follow the United States and the European Union and impose sanctions. They want to suspend it from the 54-country grouping of former British colonies.

Tough action, however, seems unlikely. A bloc of African nations is unwilling to see Zimbabwe punished until after the elections. The view at CHOGM from these countries is to wait to see what happens during the poll before taking any punitive measures.

It appears that countries pushing for sanctions, including Britain and Australia, can expect only to get approval for a statement condemning violence in member countries.

Zimbabwe has been the key issue hanging over the four-day meeting. Talks Saturday proved fruitless when it became clear that the two sides were far apart on the issue of sanctions. African states make up around one-third of Commonwealth members and have a powerful voice.

There has been progress at the summit, which is held every two years. The members Sunday created a multimillion-dollar fund to encourage investment in Africa to help the continent develop its economies and raise living standards.

The Commonwealth also delivered a tough message on global terrorism, promising to deport suspected members of extreme organizations.

A more pressing concern for Pacific and Caribbean island nations is global warming, which threatens to engulf some low-lying islands such as Tuvalu and the Maldives.

CHOGM was postponed after last year's attacks in the United States. It is being held under fortress-like security, with 6,000 police officers and army soldiers guarding the luxury resort venue. Australian air force jets patrol the sky with orders to shoot down threatening planes.