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Zimbabwe Election Challenge For African Union Summit

Internationally denounced as a sham, the Zimbabwean presidential run-off election conducted on Friday by the government of President Robert Mubabe, the only one contesting the poll, poses a dilemma to the African Union leaders gathering in Egypt this weekend.

President Mugabe himself was scheduled to travel on Saturday to Sharm-el-Sheikh, a resort on the Sinai Peninsula by the Red Sea where African foreign ministers started preparing the summit on Friday even as Zimbabwean voters went - or were coerced - to the polls.

A rising number of African leaders have broken with traditional African solidarity and criticized the election which became a one-man contest on Sunday, June 22, when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he could not ask supporters of his Movement for Democratic Change to risk life and limb to cast ballots amid escalating and increasingly deadly violence.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress added its voice to the international chorus of outrage on Friday, issuing a statement saying that atmosphere of violence and intimidation made it impossible for the election to be free and fair.

From Japan, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrial nations said they would not consider Zimbabwe's government legitimate if it "does not reflect the will" of the people.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at that summit, said Washington would use its United Nations Security Council presidency to press for tougher sanctions on Harare.

At a business conference in Gaborone, Botswana, President Ian Khama said the Southern African Development Community, a subregional grouping, must become “proactive in the crisis,” adding that if SADC refused to take action he will move unilaterally.

Khama did not specify what action he envisioned taking, however.

Political sources said Mr. Mugabe dispatched his rural affairs minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to urge Mr. Khama to be patient, promising that Mr. Mubabe would be willing to open talks with the opposition MDC following the election.

Mr. Mugabe has has warned his regional peers that he won’t accept criticism. He dismissed a resolution by SADC's working group on Zimbabwe calling for the vote to be postponed.

Analysts say the A.U. has the power to sanction Mr. Mugabe - but Africa Policy Institute President Peter Kagwanja told reporter Carole Gombakomba that it remains doubtful whether AU leaders will get tough with him.

So far the list of those African leaders willing to challenge Mr. Mugabe does not include South African President Thabo Mbeki, not only the leader of the continent's industrial powerhouse but since March 2007 delegated as SADC's mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis.

In Washington, Deputy Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer voiced support Thursday for broadening the mediation process from the sole brief now held by Mr. Mbeki to a conflict resolution process fully involving the African Union, SADC and the United Nations.

Tsvangirai earlier this week urged an "expanded initiative" by the A.U. and SADC with U.N. support to put a transitional government into place. Frazer endorsed this approach in an interview with reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.

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