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Mugabe to Remove Zimbabwe from Commonwealth - 2003-12-06

The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, suggested Saturday he intends to take his country out of the 54-nation Commonwealth, whose leaders are meeting in Nigeria. Leaders of Zimbabwe's eight provinces asked Mr. Mugabe to pull Zimbabwe out at his ruling ZANU-PF's annual Congress, which ended Saturday.

In his closing address to the congress, Mr. Mugabe thanked the provincial leaders for the request that he take their nation out of the Commonwealth.

Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth, and a six-nation panel is debating whether to recommend the suspension be lifted.

Mr. Mugabe said the Commonwealth had been hijacked by "racists" interfering in Zimbabwe's internal affairs. He told more than 2,000 delegates to the two-day ZANU-PF conference that "if we say we are doing this, we will do it. We never retreat."

The president has been threatening to resign Zimbabwe's membership ever since the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said Mr. Mugabe would not be invited to the Commonwealth summit taking place in his country's capital, Abuja.

Mr. Mugabe gave no indication as to when he would pull Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth, whose members are mostly former British colonies.

The Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe's membership following last year's presidential election, won by Mr. Mugabe, which its observer team said was neither free nor fair.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Saturday that if Mr. Mugabe wanted Zimbabwe to leave the Commonwealth, the decision should be made by parliament and not the ruling party's congress.

The last country to withdraw from the Commonwealth was South Africa in 1960. The then prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, canceled South Africa's membership after Commonwealth opposition to apartheid.

South Africa returned to the Commonwealth after democratic elections in 1994.