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AU Ministers Meet As Civic Groups Discuss Harare

African foreign ministers gathered in Accra, Ghana, on Thursday to take up business including the election of new members of the African Union Commission and of the AU Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and civic and human rights organizations conferred on ways to focus AU discussions on the sharpening crisis in Zimbabwe.

The ministerial session was to set the agenda for heads of state meeting next week, including a "grand debate" on a proposal for what some call a United States of Africa, and the expansion of the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Executive Director Arnold Tsunga of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe from Accra that civil society representatives met late Thursday to discuss how to bring pressure on the African leadership to advance the crisis resolution process in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, a showdown was looming between the Zimbabwean government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change at the Accra summit.

Government insiders said Harare will ask AU leaders to engage British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. President Robert Mugabe is due in Accra Sunday, but Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Foreign Affairs Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi were already present. The opposition faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai dispatched Vice President Thokozane Khupe and Deputy Treasurer Elton Mangoma.

Harare is said to wish to portray itself as under siege, citing an alleged coup plot and a recent spate of price increases that President Mugabe on Wednesday blamed on Western governments that he accused of seeking to remove him from power.

Harare wants to avoid discussion of the ongoing crisis talks with the MDC mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki. However, Pretoria has indicated that it will brief the assembled African leaders on progress achieved to date in the talks. There were reports that some African leaders would urge a larger AU role in the process.

Khupe told reporter Blessing Zulu that the MDC is lobbying to ensure the AU anchors the South African-mediated talks and that the opposition will convey the message to African leaders that the crisis is about misgovernance, not Western meddling.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...