SHARM EL-SHEIKH: The head of the African Union Commission said the continent must tackle its difficulties in running clean elections as African foreign ministers debated how to handle the crisis in Zimbabwe at a gathering here on Friday.
The meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh was taking place as a one-candidate presidential runoff got underway in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe is running unopposed after his competitor pulled out because of violence against his supporters.
Many African leaders, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, have been unwilling to publicly criticize Mugabe, who is expected to attend Monday s main African Union summit here. The longtime Zimbabwean leader has blasted African and international criticism of the situation in his country, where opposition activists say they are being targeted.
Public discussion of Zimbabwe was largely avoided at the opening of Friday s foreign minister s meeting. AU Commission chairman, Jean Ping, mentioned other conflicts in Africa including Darfur and Somalia, but he steered clear of Zimbabwe during a speech. He said the crisis there would only be addressed at the main AU summit.
However, Ping said the major challenge facing African was to ensure that elections do not lead to troubles and violent and often bloody protests.
The head of the AU s executive body said democracy was not just about holding elections, but also reporting the results promptly – a clear reference to the long delay in reporting the results of Zimbabwe s initial presidential elections in March.
We will engage in a deep reflection on the general problem of elections on this continent, he said.
Later Friday, foreign ministers and other diplomats discussed Zimbabwe in closed door talks, said one North African diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
The diplomat said the talks so far were unproductive , without elaborating. It was not clear specifically what the diplomats were discussing.
Friday s runoff has been condemned by world leaders and is expected to deepen the southern African country s political crisis. It follows a campaign of state-sponsored violence that lead opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, to declare he could not run – leaving Mugabe as the only candidate.
Dozens of opposition supporters have been killed and thousands of people injured in the violence leading up to the election. On Friday, militant ruling party supporters and paramilitary police roamed Zimbabwe s capital and marshals led voters to polling stations.
Mugabe has dismissed African leaders who have been critical of him and said he would come to the AU summit to prove his point.
I would like some African leaders who are making these statements to point at me and we would see if those fingers would be cleaner than mine, he said at a rally Thursday, according to Friday s editions of The Herald, a Zimbabwe government mouthpiece.
When I go to the AU meeting next week, I am going to challenge some leaders to point out when we have had worse elections, Mugabe was quoted as saying.