Southern African leaders opened an annual regional summit Saturday with indications that they will endorse disputed elections in Zimbabwe that extended President Robert Mugabe’s 33-year rule by another five years.
According to the AFP news agency, incoming head of the Southern African Development Community SADC), President Joyce Banda of Malawi, congratulated President Mugabe for conducting peaceful elections.
President Banda told Mr. Mugabe, amid applause from the excited audience, that “we wish to offer you continued support as a member of the family.”
The AFP reported that a smiling President Mugabe acknowledged the endorsement with his traditional clenched-fist salute.
Before the leaders convened the summit, more than 1,500 representatives of civil society organizations staged protests outside the venue of the meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi, demanding that Zimbabwe’s disputed elections be top on the regional bloc’s agenda.
Thabani Nyoni, spokesman for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said the protesters were drawn from more than 400 non-governmental organizations based in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African nations.
Nyoni said the NGOs were assured by outgoing SADC chairman President Armando Gebhuza of Mozambique that Zimbabwe’s election results will be tabled by the SADC leaders.
"Despite this assuarance, we don't expect SADC to reverse the outcome of the elections won by President Mugabe's Zanu PF party," he said.
SADC had indicated that Zimbabwe will not be part of the agenda. The leaders' meeting is expected to deliberate on a wide range of regional issues, including the appointment of a new leadership for the regional bloc's secretariat.
President Mugabe won resoundingly against his arch-rival, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in the just-ended general election.
Mr. Tsvangirai’s MDC on Friday withdrew its petition to the Constitutional Court seeking to nullify Zimbabwe's presidential election results and call for fresh polls.
The party said it could not proceed with the matter because it was unlikely to get a fair court hearing.
A decision by the MDC-T to drop a legal challenge to the presidential election victory of President Mugabe has cleared the way for his inauguration for another five-year term.