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AU Urged to Push For Democratic Reforms in Africa

African Union leaders meeting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, for the 20th AU Summit are expected to focus on key issues affecting the continent's economic development.

The theme of this year's summit is Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.

Speaking at the opening of the African Union Summit on Monday, African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the continent is on the rise, but still faces many challenges.

Dlamini-Zuma called on the AU to focus more on industrialization and economic integration.

She said the continent still had to contend with huge infrastructural backlogs in education, health, and rapid response to youth development, and the need for food security.

The summit marks the Pan-African organization's 50-year-anniversary. African ministers of foreign affairs will convene a meeting in Addis Ababa at the end of the week. The heads of state will gather on Sunday and Monday for the assembly meeting of the AU.

Human Rights Watch said AU needs to make human rights issues central to its discussions this week and address the crises in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Somalia and the challenges around up-coming elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

In a statement released by the watch dog organization, the group said it wants the AU to deploy election observers early enough for the Zimbabwean poll, where it says a lack of institutional and legal reform has raised the threat of violence and other abuses ahead of the pending 2013 elections.

Executive director Daniel Bekele of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch spoke to VOA on the meeting and the crises affecting the continent.
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β€œIn Zimbabwe, we are calling on the government to take necessary measures to create a conducive environment for free and fair elections,” said Bekele.

The summitt continues until January 28.