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Summit ends with African leaders siding with Mugabe

Story Highlights

NEW: South Africa leaders call for end of all sanctions against Zimbabwe
• Rights groups have condemned President Mugabe's opposition crackdown
• Madeleine Albright, Desmond Tutu had called on SADC to "speak out"
• Robert Mugabe has led nation with iron fist for 27 years, economy in shambles
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DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (CNN) -- Southern African leaders Thursday emerged from a conference in Tanzania's capital allied with embattled Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and calling for the lifting of all sanctions against his government.

Mugabe maintains a tight grip on power as his country spirals into economic disaster.

After the Southern Africa Development Community emergency summit, Mugabe described the meeting as "excellent."

"We are one with our neighbors," he said.

Mugabe has been condemned by the West and human rights groups for arrests and reported intimidation and beatings of his political opponents. His forces have been accused of severely beating opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara on March 11.

The SADC meeting comes a day after Zimbabwean forces raided the Harare headquarters of the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change, the country's main opposition group, and detained about 10 MDC staff and officials.

Police said the raid was part of an overall initiative to arrest people responsible for throwing petrol bombs around Harare.

MDC officials said it was just another attempt to intimidate the opposition group. Tsvangirai was among those detained, just before he was to hold a news conference from the headquarters, MDC officials said.

Government police denied that Tsvangirai was among those arrested.

Communique issued after summit

A joint communique issued by the 14 SADC leaders reaffirmed the group's solidarity with Zimbabwe's government and people, and mandated that South African President Thabo Mbeki continue his efforts to facilitate dialogue between Zimbabwe's opposition groups and the government.

In the communique, the SADC leaders also encouraged better diplomatic contacts to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe and called for the lifting of all economic sanctions.

In Thursday's Washington Post, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and South African human rights activist and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu addressed the Zimbabwe issue and called on SADC to "speak out."

"Given Mugabe's consistent unwillingness to respect the legitimate complaints of his people, this is not the time for silent diplomacy," the op-ed, entitled "A Cry for Zimbabwe."

"This is the time to speak out. It is especially important that members of the African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) raise their voices, for they have the most influence and can hardly be accused of interventionism.

"As the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela remind us, it is never inappropriate to speak on behalf of justice."

The government raid and arrests Wednesday were denounced by British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who called it a "calculated" move "not only to prevent them from legitimately expressing their views but to intimidate."

MDC: Opposition leader still suffering from injuries

MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said Tsvangirai is resting at home Thursday, a day after he was briefly detained.

He is still suffering from injuries inflicted by Zimbabwean forces on March 11, when he and his fellow MDC leader were taken into custody and beaten as they tried to hold a rally outside Harare.

Biti said Tsvangirai may have to be evacuated to neighboring South Africa for medical treatment.

That could prove difficult since Zimbabwean forces have prevented other MDC officials from leaving the country. Some were wounded in the March 11 crackdown and are seeking medical treatment in South Africa.

On March 18, MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa was attacked and beaten near Harare International Airport, where he was scheduled to depart for a conference in Brussels, Belgium. Tsvangirai told CNN he believed Mugabe's government was behind the attack.

Mugabe's government accuses the MDC of using brutal tactics to oppose the government. Last week, Zimbabwe's government threatened to expel Western diplomats, including the U. S. ambassador, who have openly sided with the opposition.

Mugabe, 83, has been Zimbabwe's only ruler since it achieved independence from Britain 27 years ago.

Under his rule, the once-prosperous country has suffered an economic crisis, with routine shortages of food, electricity and foreign currency. Inflation is estimated to exceed 1,700 percent.

While there is no official figure, unemployment among Zimbabweans is estimated at 80 percent.

Mugabe has indicated he intends to run for another term in next year's elections.

Tsvangirai lost his bid to unseat Mugabe in the last presidential election in 2002, which was marked by widespread allegations that Mugabe and his supporters rigged the vote.

CNN Africa Correspondent Jeff Koinange contributed to this report



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