LILONGWE: Southern African leaders on Sunday called on the West to lift sanctions against Zimbabwe as they rubber-stamped President Robert Mugabe's victory in last month's disputed elections.
Wrapping up its annual summit, the 15-nation regional bloc SADC called for "the lifting of all forms of sanctions hitherto imposed on Zimbabwe", levelled against blacklisted firms and individuals.
"I believe Zimbabwe deserves better, Zimbabweans have suffered enough," said the incoming SADC chairwoman President Joyce Banda of Malawi.
The SADC also commended the government of Zimbabwe "for the peaceful manner in which elections were conducted" and congratulated Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party for the overwhelming win.
In a further display of confidence in the 89-year old, the leaders appointed Mugabe the deputy chairman of the group and voted that Zimbabwe will host the next SADC summit in July next year.
Mugabe's main rival opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has cried foul over the July 31 election which he says was rigged.
He lodged an electoral petition with the courts, but withdrew it a week later saying he was not going to get a fair hearing.
That cleared the way for the inauguration of Mugabe, already in power for 33 years. He will take his oath of office on Thursday to begin a fresh five-year term.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, first took the reins of a newly independent Zimbabwe in 1980 as prime minister. He became president following a constitutional amendment in 1987.