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Commonwealth Leaders Shelve Plans to Suspend Zimbabwe - 2002-03-04

Commonwealth leaders have delayed a decision on whether to suspend Zimbabwe from the 54-member organization because of pre-election violence in the east African country.

Meeting in the eastern Australian resort town of Coolum Monday, Commonwealth leaders agreed to set up a three-nation committee to evaluate Zimbabwe's March 9 and 10 election and take action, if the ballot was not free and fair.

In a statement, the leaders expressed deep concern about "incidents of violence and intimidation" before the election and called on all parties to refrain from violence.

The decision came after African leaders strongly objected to calls by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to suspend Zimbabwe immediately. On Sunday, Zimbabwe's Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said nations pushing for suspension, were basing their actions on racism.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his strongest challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, are headed into their final week of campaigning. During a political rally Sunday Mr. Mugabe blasted Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler, and accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of favoring the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Mr. Tsvangirai told his supporters that the only way he can lose the election is if President Mugabe rigs the vote. The 78-year old Mr. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980.