AU summit tackles divisions over 'African government'

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SIRTE: African leaders at a summit Thursday struggled to overcome divisions on a proposed African government , as Libyan leader Moamer Qaddafi pressed for a powerful new continental authority.

The leaders agreed earlier in February to create an AU Authority that would centralize the executive powers of the 53-member bloc, but Qaddafi is pushing to grant the new body sweeping powers over defense, trade and foreign relations.

The continent s biggest economy South Africa, as well as top oil producers Nigeria and Angola, are opposing Qaddafi and arguing for a more gradual approach to integration.

Everyone is very angry. We re not sure how it will end up, one diplomat said.

It s only the latest move by the Libyan leader to rankle the visiting leaders at the summit in his hometown of Sirte, which is decked out in twinkle lights, lit-up plastic trees and laser shows for the occasion.

Qaddafi extended a surprise invitation to Iran s hardline leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address the summit, only for Tehran to cancel the trip at the last minute without explanation.

Delegates complained they hadn t been consulted, didn t all support the invitation, and feared the Iranian visit would overshadow the meeting s official agenda, which is supposed to focus on agricultural investments.

Qaddafi also unexpectedly proposed tough measures on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Al-Beshir over atrocities in Darfur.

The Libyan measure would limit cooperation with the ICC for countries that already have treaty obligations to the court.

Some countries that sympathize with Sudan say the ICC is targeting only certain people, said one southern African diplomat.

We are saying, look at the merits of the ICC and each country can make a self-assessment, he added.

Al-Beshir is at the summit, pushing for a suspension of the warrant.

Leaders from nearly half of the African Union s 53 members were in attendance, with Egypt, Nigeria and Angola among the most notable absences.

They also must confront the political and armed conflicts roiling the continent, most dramatically in Somalia, where Islamist insurgents launched an offensive against the internationally backed government nearly two months ago.

The African Union has 4,300 peacekeepers deployed in Somalia, its largest force on the continent. But their role is confined largely to protecting the president and ensuring that key sea and airports remain open.

Somalia and five of its neighbors want the AU to deploy a total of 8,000 peacekeepers, a contingent that has already been approved but not yet manned.

Currently there is just over 4,000 in Somalia, and what we have requested is that the full complement of 8,000 should be given, Somali Foreign Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar said.

The situation is not what it was supposed to be a month ago, two months, three months ago, he said. It is a threat to the subregion as a whole.

The summit has already taken steps to address other hotspots.

Mauritania s suspension from the bloc was lifted on Tuesday, after the naming of a transitional government to steer the country toward elections on July 18, following last year s coup in the west African state.

In Madagascar, new talks were planned for later in July, four months after the Indian Ocean island s elected president Marc Ravalomanana was ousted by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina, who had the army s blessing.

The summit is scheduled to wrap up on Friday

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