Zimbabwe's ruling party has endorsed President Robert Mugabe as its candidate for next year's presidential elections.

The ZANU-PF party chose Mugabe, 83,  following a lengthy closed-door meeting Friday. The endorsement was considered a formality, although there were reports that some party members would have preferred that the president retire.

A U.S. State Department spokesman called the endorsement "sad" and "outrageous."

He said African nations failed to meet U.S. hopes to take a strong stand against President Mugabe during a summit this week. He said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) fell short in its actions.

Leaders at the summit expressed support for Mr. Mugabe's government and urged the West to drop sanctions against Zimbabwe.

The meeting was convened after Western nations condemned Zimbabwe's recent crackdown on opposition activists. 

Earlier this month, police broke up an anti-government rally and beat key activists, including opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party said Friday it was very disappointed by the SADC action, saying it was dishonest and ignored the real crisis in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has suffered years of economic decline, culminating in chronic shortages of food and fuel, and soaring rates of inflation and unemployment.