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Cooperation urged in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The presidents of South Africa and Nigeria have urged Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to cooperate in rebuilding his country.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, was sworn in for another six-year term on Sunday despite widespread criticism from the West and Zimbawean opposition of vote rigging.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard are due to discuss possible Commonwealth action against Zimbabwe on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe's main labour federation has called for a three-day general strike starting on Wednesday to protest against what it called post-election harassment of workers.

Wellington Chibebe, Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, told Reuters: "We are making the point that violence against workers, who are mostly identified with the opposition, has increased since the elections."

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The Harare meeting came on the same day that a white farmer was shot dead by suspected ruling party militants. He was the first white farmer killed since Mugabe was re-elected and the tenth killed since militants began often-violent occupations of white-owned land two years ago. (Full story)

Mbeki and Obasanjo said they had asked Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai to work together to rebuild the nation, which is suffering severe food shortages and economic devastation.

Obasanjo said: "Whatever ordinary people in Zimbabwe have done, voted or not voted, they need to be assisted. They need to be helped.

"That help may not come unless the leaders of Zimbabwe put their arms together and work together in a way that brings hope in this country."

Mbeki said the Zimbabwe government had to take the lead in suggesting ways to end its crisis.

The leaders also spoke with Tsvangirai for about an hour at a Harare hotel, saying afterwards that they would know "in a matter of days" where both parties stood.

Commonwealth observers issued a damning report on the Zimbabwean polls, which have also been condemned by the United States, the European Union and former colonial power Britain, but South Africa has yet to pronounce formally on the validity of the election.

As Mbeki began talks, his ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) dismissed possible Western and Commonwealth sanctions.

ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said: "We don't believe in punitive measures. We believe in respecting the sovereignty and cultures and people of this region."

The Commonwealth trio meeting in London will consider a report by Commonwealth observers on last week's elections, which detail a catalogue of violence, intimidation and vote-rigging by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

Before leaving Australia for London, Howard said: "This is quite a moment of truth for the Commonwealth ... it's not something that can be swept under the carpet."

He was keen to hear what Zimbabwe officials had to say.

"The Commonwealth is being held together by a number of things and one of them has been the common commitment to democracy. We have to make certain that we maintain that tradition in our deliberations."


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