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Britain, Australia Oppose Return of Zimbabwe to Commonwealth - 2003-05-07

The prime ministers of Britain and Australia have strongly criticized the rule of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, and say they will continue to oppose the country's return to the Commonwealth organization.

At a news conference following talks with his British counterpart in London, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Zimbabwe's suspension from the 54-nation Commonwealth group should continue for the foreseeable future.

"Until a serious attempt at returning to democratic rule is made, there can be no question of Zimbabwe, in our view, being readmitted to the councils of the Commonwealth. But even more importantly than that, the suffering of the people, both black and white, in Zimbabwe is not only distressing, but inexcusable and appalling, and a terrible indictment of somebody who has lost any pretense of governing for the welfare of the people of that country," he said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed those sentiments, saying "There are no grounds, so far as we can see, for saying that there has been any significant progress at all, indeed if anything, the situation has got worse. And that means that we have got to keep up maximum international pressure upon the regime."

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth last year after observers said Mr. Mugabe's re-election was severely flawed. There are also concerns about his land reform policy, which has seized white-owned farms and given them to landless blacks, many of them Mr. Mugabe's supporters. The program has led to widespread food shortages. Mr. Mugabe has also been accused of repressive policies toward his opponents.

The Zimbabwe leader frequently accuses the west, and particularly Britain, of conspiring against him. But now, African leaders are also beginning to put pressure on Mr. Mugabe. The presidents of South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria visited Zimbabwe on Monday and urged him to start a dialogue with his opponents to try to ease the country's political and economic crises.