“Zimbabwe has withdrawn its membership from the Commonwealth with immediate effect,” the government said in a statement.
“This is unacceptable. This is it. It (Zimbabwe) quits and quits it will be,” the information ministry quoted President Robert Mugabe as telling the presidents of Nigeria, South Africa and Jamaica when they told him of the Commonwealth’s decision by phone.
Leaders agreed to keep Zimbabwe from the group indefinitely at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Nigeria.
At the meeting, in the capital Abuja, it was agreed a seven-nation panel that includes Australia will monitor Zimbabwe’s progress in improving its human rights record and increasing dialogue with opposition parties.
Zimbabwe has been suspended since March of last year because of an election which saw President Robert Mugabe voted back into office amid widespread vote-rigging and violence.
Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current chairman of the Commonwealth, said: “We will watch the situation in Zimbabwe very carefully.”
The decision was confirmed by Secretary General Don McKinnon, but a statement read out a press conference said that all heads of state would work to end the suspension and promote reconciliation in the country.
Mr Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since it won independence from Britain in 1980, threatened on Saturday to pull out of the body altogether if the summit favoured its continued exclusion.
The decision came after leaders from 52 nations at Chogm received recommendations from an ad-hoc panel comprising the leaders of the seven-nation committee.
A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s ruling party expressed shock at the decision, reiterating it was likely Zimbabwe would withdraw from the grouping.
“My immediate reaction is one of surprise and shock that the Commonwealth would have taken the decision it has taken,” said Nathan Shamuyarira, spokesman for the Zimbabwe African National – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).