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Nigerian President Undecided About Inviting Mugabe to Commonwealth Summit - 2003-11-17

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo says he has not decided whether to invite Zimbabwe's president to the next Commonwealth summit. The Nigerian leader visited Harare on Monday.

President Robert Mugabe's presence at the biennial meeting of the British Commonwealth countries is threatening to split the group. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth following the March 2002 presidential elections, which the Commonwealth found neither free nor fair.

While the majority of former black colonies are saying Zimbabwe should be re-admitted to the 54-nation organization, governments of the predominantly white countries are opposed. They argue human rights abuses and state-sponsored violence on members of the opposition are increasing.

President Obasanjo's visit to Zimbabwe is seen as a last-ditch attempt to have Harare make some concessions to the opposition so President Mugabe can be invited to the meeting set for December 5-8.

During his visit, the Nigerian leader had separate meetings with Mr. Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mr. Tsvangirai refused to talk to the press afterwards, and Mr. Obasanjo did not give away much at the press conference he held after his second meeting with Mr. Mugabe.

"I have had very, very useful discussions with the president, I have also had some meeting this morning with the leader of MDC Tsvangirai and in fact my consultation here is not over yet," Mr. Obasanjo said.

Mr. Mugabe said later he looked forward to attending the Abuja meeting.

Mr. Obasanjo also held meetings with Zimbabwe's Ministers of Security, Nicholas Goche, and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa. The two are part of Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF team involved in on-again-off-again talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have threatened not to attend the Abuja summit if Mr. Mugabe attends. Queen Elizabeth II, the ceremonial head of the commonwealth, is also expected to stay away if Mr. Mugabe attends.