Southern African leaders have called on Western nations to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, saying they are satisfied elections that kept longtime President Robert Mugabe in power were "free and peaceful".
The 15-nation Southern African Development Community's (SADC) incoming head, Malawi President Joyce Banda, said that "the people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough".
She was speaking at the end of a weekend summit in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe. Mugabe won the July 31 election according to Zimbabwe's electoral commission but challenger and former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has alleged widespread rigging in the poll.
Western nations, prevented by Mugabe from sending observers, have condemned the vote for irregularities in voters' lists and in election procedures. Independent local observers also complained of irregularities.
Britain, the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against Mugabe and senior ZANU-PF leaders for human rights violations and suspected vote rigging and suspected rigging of previous elections
The sanctions involve business, banking and travel bans.
By backing the result, SADC, which helped broker a power-sharing deal after disputed elections in 2008, clears the way for 89-year-old Mugabe to be sworn in as early as this week for a fresh five-year term.
"The summit congratulated his honourable Robert Mugabe for winning the election in Zimbabwe," a South African foreign ministry official said.
At the meeting, the group also named Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, as its deputy chairman and said it would hold a summit next year in Zimbabwe's capital.
The oppositon Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Friday withdrew a court challenge against the re-election, saying it would not get a fair hearing. It sent delegates to Lilongwe to raise its objections.
Political analysts said Tsvangirai has been careful not to speak about street protests, fearing a crackdown on the MDC by Mugabe's security forces.
Former colonial power Britain had urged SADC to look carefully at accusations of fraud in last month's poll and said it was disappointed opposition parties had withdrawn its legal challenge.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|
|William A. Cook|