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African Union Calls for National Unity Government in Zimbabwe

A summit of African leaders is encouraging Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe to form a government of national unity with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. VOA's Peter Heinlein at the summit site at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, reports a final summit statement takes no position on Zimbabwe's runoff presidential election, which many western government have called a sham.

A summit resolution approved after hours of sometimes contentious debate avoids many of the difficult questions arising from Zimbabwe's election. It does not endorse the results, and assesses no blame for the violence and intimidation that prompted observers and many western governments to declare Robert Mugabe's inauguration illegitimate.

The final resolution encourages Mr. Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to enter a dialogue, and support the idea of a Kenya-style government of national unity.

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told reporters the resolution was adopted by consensus during a closed door meeting. "There was a lengthy debate. Many views were put forward, including very critical views of the Zimbabwe ruling party and the president, and the president of Zimbabwe made a lengthy intervention in which he explained his position, his party's position and the developments that took place in Zimbabwe in the past weeks and months which led to the present situation," he said.

The resolution also encourages the Southern Africa Development Community, SADC, to continue its mediation efforts.

The resolution was far milder than what several countries had urged.

Diplomats inside the closed meeting say the leaders of Botswana, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone spoke in strong terms about the election's lack of legitimacy.

Zimbabwe's neighbor Botswana argued that Zimbabwe and Mr. Mugabe should be barred from membership in the African Union and SADC.

Senegal and Uganda also favored strong action against Mr. Mugabe than the relatively neutral position taken in the resolution.

The debate underscored the deep divisions among Zimbabwe's neighbors over how to respond to Mr. Mugabe's open challenge to democracy, Regional power South Africa has resisted any condemnation of Mr. Mugabe.

Earlier in the day, a spokesman for Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe rejected western criticism of the presidential election. spokesman George Charamba told reporters the west has no right to judge the legitimacy of the election that returned Mr. Mugabe to power. "They can go and hang. They can go and hang, a thousand times. They've no claim on Zimbabwe at all, and that's exactly the issue," he said.

When reporters asked if Mr. Mugabe would give up some power MDC leader Tsvangirai, Charamba suggested the Zimbabwean leader has no intention of yielding to foreign influence. "The way out is the way defined by the Zimbabwe people free from outside interference, and that is exactly what will resolve the matter," he said.

Zimbabwe's political turmoil, and Mr. Mugabe's presence completely overshadowed the business of this Red Sea resort summit. Discussions about meeting anti-poverty and development goals went virtually ignored. Seats were empty at a news conference to discuss the summit theme, providing Africa with clean water and sanitation.

An estimated 30 African heads of state and government attended the two-day gathering at this Red Sea resort.