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Latest News Last Updated: Jan 31, 2010 - 7:39:00 AM

Ban slams Africa power-grabs as Kadhafi steps aside

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Ban slams Africa power-grabs as Kadhafi steps aside

ADDIS ABABA UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on Sunday criticised power-grabs in Africa in a speech to the continent's leaders as Libya's Moamer Kadhafi reluctantly handed over the presidency of the African Union to Malawi.

The build-up to the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa had been dominated by the expectation that Kadhafi would try to extend his 12-month tenure as head of the 53-member body.

But soon after Ban issued his appeal at the summit's opening for leaders to stick to the rules, Kadhafi announced that an agreement had been reached for Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika to take the helm for the coming year.

"I accept this responsibility with a lot of humility, said Mutharika who was the candidate of the bloc of southern African nations.

Kadhafi's presidency of the body has been marked by his efforts to promote his vision of a "United States of Africa" -- a project that has made little progress during his 12 months in charge.

It has also prompted awkward questions about the continent's commitment to democracy, given the absence of free elections in Libya ever since Kadhafi took power in a bloodless coup in 1969.

In his address to the conference, Ban expressed concern about what he called a recent resurgence of "unconstitutional" power changes in Africa and rapped attempts by incumbents to change the law in order to help them stay in office.

"The resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government in Africa is a matter of serious concern," said the UN secretary general.

"We must also guard against the manipulation of established processes to retain power."

Africa has been dogged by a series of political crises in the last year, including in Madagascar where President Marc Ravalomanana was toppled in an army-backed coup in March, and in Guinea where an army junta which came to power in December 2008 was accused of massacring opposition followers.

Other recent trouble-spots include Niger where the president has brushed aside international pleas to allow himself another term in office and Mauritania where the country's first democratically-elected leader was toppled by the army in August 2008.

In his acceptance speech, Mutharika said it was time for Africa to fulfil its promise, saying "the time has come for Africa to develop Africa".

"Africa is not a poor continent but the African populations are poor when we have actually a lot of natural resources," he told his peers.

"We have many scientists, engineers, artists, sports champion who are now in western countries contributing to the development of these countries."

Kadhafi meanwhile said that he would continue to push his dream of a fully integrated continent.

"There is no need for any title, I'll remain in the front struggling," he added.

"If we have one African voice, one African foreign policy in the international arena, then we'll be heard.

"If we don't unite we'll be colonised again."

In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Ban put particular emphasis on the fate of Sudan, where tension has been mounting in the run-up to a 2011 referendum in which the south is widely expected to choose independence from Khartoum, only six years after signing a peace deal.

He called the situation prevailing in the war-torn western Sudanese province of Darfur "a serious situation which reflects and exposes our limitations".

Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Friday. His movements have been closely monitored since the International Criminal Court last year slapped him with an arrest warrant over the atrocities committed in the Darfur region since 2003.

The summit's official theme is information technology, but the leaders barely touched on the subject in their opening remarks.

The assembled leaders also observed a minute's silence in memory of the 90 victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash off the coast of Libya in the early hours of January 25.

They also expressed their sympathy for the people of Haiti whose capital was devastated by a powerful earthquake on January 12, leaving 170,000 people dead and one million homeless.

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