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High hopes and cynicism greet birth of African Union

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

DURBAN, South Africa -- In a blur of streaking fighter jets, Zulu dancers and parachuting soldiers, African leaders on Tuesday launched the African Union, an ambitious new body that seeks to pull the beleaguered continent out of poverty and conflict.

"We as Africans have a common and a shared destiny. Together we must redefine this destiny for a better life for all the people of this continent," South African President Thabo Mbeki told thousands at a celebratory kickoff at a stadium in this coastal city. Mbeki, the African Union's first chairman, has been a driving force behind its creation.

Talk of unity won't be enough, said critics who questioned whether the new body would have the resources or political will to enforce its lofty goals or would be another toothless bureaucracy like its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity.

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