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End of Gadhafi's AU Presidency Stirs Speculation

Malawi is scheduled to take over the rotating African Union presidency from Libya at an AU summit next week. But, delegates gathering for pre-summit sessions are expecting the unexpected from the outgoing president, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya's year as president of the African Union is about to come to an end. Or at least it is supposed to.

Since the organization was founded, the presidency has rotated yearly by geographical region. Last year it was Libya's turn as the candidate of North Africa. This year, is is southern Africa's turn, and Malawi has been chosen by the regional grouping, known as SADC, to take the job.

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutarika has signaled he is ready to take up the post.

But as pre-summit talks began Monday, the question on everyone's lips is whether Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi will find a way to stay on. Mr. Gadhafi has hosted several African leaders in recent days, and is reported to have won the backing of some west African nations for another year in the presidency.

News reports Monday said southern Africa's most influential leader, South African President Jacob Zuma, was visiting Libya for talks with Mr. Gadhafi.

Diplomats spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to comment on the record. Several, however, recalled last year's unusual maneuverings, when a summit scheduled for Madagascar had to be relocated after the government was ousted in a coup. Since it was southern Africa's turn to host the gathering, the island nation of Mauritius offered to step in as a substitute. But with weeks to go, Mauritius surprised observers by withdrawing its bid in favor of Libya.

Briefing reporters Monday, AU Commission Secretary, Ambassador Jean Mfasoni was non-committal when asked about Malawi's candidacy.

"This is the responsibility of member states," he said. "Malawi is the candidate for SADC, and as usual there will be a process of elections, so it will be done according to the rules, and we expect the assembly will decide accordingly."

With Mr. Gadhafi in charge until at least next Monday, there is speculation he may push the summit to advance the creation of an African Union Authority with far more power than the current AU Commission. Mr. Gadhafi has made the Authority one of the main goals in his bid to forge greater African integration.

Many African leaders opposed to the Authority thought the item had been shelved, at least until a summit later this year in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, at which time Mr. Gadhafi would no longer control the agenda. But AU Commission Secretary Mfasoni says it may appear on the Assembly's agenda this week.

"According to decision 263 of the Assembly we are expected to report to the next summit in Kampala in July, 2010," he said. "However, we are prepared as a Commission to give under the report on the implementation of decisions, a brief(ing) on actions being undertaken."

This summit will mark the first time all 15 seats will be up for grabs on the AU's most powerful body, the Peace and Security Council. Diplomats say the North African group has chosen Libya and Mauritania to fill its two seats, while Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa have been selected to represent the southern region.

The other two regions are still undecided. Kenya and Djibouti are said to be in line for two of the three eastern region seats, with the third being contested by Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda.

The western region is less certain. Diplomats say Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal have good chances to take three of the four seats, with Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mali all in the running for the fourth.