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Congo Becomes New Leader of African Union

The sixth African Union summit came to a close on Tuesday night in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. A fight for the chairmanship of the union had delayed the proceedings, but on Tuesday evening, the president of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguessou, assumed the chair of the African Union after a barrage of criticism from rights groups sunk the chances of Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir.

It was another late night for delegates and observers at the African Union summit in Khartoum. The theme of the summit was culture and education but a battle for the A.U. chairmanship consumed most of the meeting.

Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguessou was awarded the chair on Tuesday morning in the wake of controversy surrounding Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir, who has been accused of rights violations in Dafur.

Mr. Sassou-Nguessou, speaking through a translator, praised participants at the close of the summit.

"We have usefully worked for the benefit of our continent," he said. "We have deliberated in full responsibility and full wisdom and we have made (an) important and relevant decision and our proceedings bear witness to this. Our summit has been a tremendous success."

Mr. Sassou-Nguessou is no stranger to controversy. He has ruled Congo twice and came to power for the second time in a 1997 coup. Then in 2002 he was the winner of a democratic vote in Congo. At the close of the summit reporters raised questions about Congo's human rights record.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso responded that his appointment indicates AU members have faith in his abilities as a leader.

The same show of faith was not present for Mr. Al Bashir, whose record in Darfur provoked outrage among rights groups who demanded that Bashir be disqualified for the honor.

As part of a compromise Mr. Bashir is set to assume the chair in 2007. Mr. Sassou-Nguesso told reporters no conditions have been set for Mr. Bashir in order to assume the post one year from now.

Burkina Faso's President, Blaise Compaore, says AU members hope to help Sudan in that time "assume its responsibilities and resolve its crises."