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African Union Chooses New Leaders, Rebuffs Gaddafi's Union Plan

The African Union has elected new leadership at its summit meeting in Addis Ababa, but postponed action on an audit report that sharply criticizes the outgoing leaders. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports from the summit site that members again rejected Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's grand plan to transform the union into a United States of Africa.

Gabon's Foreign Minister Jean Ping was elected to a four-year term as chairperson of the African Union Commission Friday, replacing the charismatic former president of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konare. Ping is a career civil servant who previously served as President of the United Nations General Assembly.

African diplomats say Ping's election, and the choice a day earlier of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to fill the rotating A.U presidency is aimed at giving a fresh start to an organization criticized in a recent internal audit as being riven by weak leadership, and an unhealthy organizational structure.

After his election, the new chairperson stood in the jam-packed assembly hall alongside an obviously proud Gabonese President Omar Bongo, Africa's longest serving head of state, who helped to engineer the election. Ping told VOA he was pleased to have received the required two-thirds majority on the first ballot.

"Well, I'm happy, of course. I'm happy of course.

VOA: Mr. Ping, do you have a word for all the countries that voted for you?

No, I want to pay my gratitude to all the countries, of course starting with those who voted for me, but also for the rest."

Elected vice-chairperson was Kenyan Erastus Mwencha, the secretary-general of COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Despite the political turmoil gripping his country, Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki stayed to see through Mwencha's candidacy.

Mr. Kibaki refused to speak to reporters Friday, but in two behind-closed-door speeches, he seemed in no mood to compromise. In copies of his speeches obtained by VOA, he squarely laid the blame for Kenya's troubles on the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). He accused the ODM of instigating the violence.

The summit also turned its attention Friday to another crisis brewing in Africa, this one in Chad. Several delegates voiced fears that an offensive underway by rebels around the Chadian capital, Ndjamena, could damage efforts to end fighting in neighboring Sudan.

Day two of the summit also dealt a fresh blow to a proposal by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to immediately establish a union government that would lead to creation of a United States of Africa.

The Gaddafi proposal received a cool reception when it was introduced at last July's A.U. summit in Accra, Ghana. Delegates at this gathering decided to send the plan to committee for further study. But Mr. Gaddafi said afterward he is not giving up hope. In a brief interview, the Libyan leader told VOA he thinks the concept could win approval at the next summit later this year.

"Yes it is possible. We formed a committee from the heads of state, and worked on how we make this union government, to achieve it as soon as possible during the next summit," he said.

Many African leaders attending the summit say they agree the Gaddafi proposal has merit, and is likely to win eventual approval. But as Sudan's Ambassador to the United Nations Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem explains, there is a widespread concern that the time is not right.

"We don't doubt at all his sincerity to Africa, his commitment to Africa. He has that school of moving now. If we can move now, we will do it now. If we can move let us do it now, but we have to build it on solid foundation, I'm not sure whether that would be a good thing for Africa. But the issue (is not) whether we like it or not, but the issue of when and how," he said.

Leaders also delayed action on the controversial internal audit. Diplomats say a meeting of foreign ministers is likely in a few months take up the questions of institutional reform.

The three-day summit wraps up Saturday with a final brief session and issuance of a joint communiqué.