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President Mbeki of South Africa endured a rough ride at the G8 summit as major power leaders called him to task for failing to bring Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to book.

Mr Mbeki was among seven African leaders who joined a session at the Group of Eight summit in Japan, where they were warned clearly that trade and investment on the continent could be hit unless they acted to deal with the “illegitimate” Zimbawean president.

Several leaders, including President Bush, were said to have directly criticised Mr Mbeki, for his failure, as regional mediator, to rein in Mr Mugabe. Mr Bush calling last month’s election a sham, while Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she would back more sanctions.

“There’s growing support for sanctions against the Mugabe regime being stepped up,” Gordon Brown told reporters.

Mr Bush said Zimbabwe was discussed extensively at the meeting on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido but, according to the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, African leaders and the G8 differed over how to respond to the crisis. “The only area that we may differ is on the way forward. You see differently but for us in Africa we see differently, but I think again there is still room for us for discussions,” said Mr Kikwete, who is also head of the African Union.

“I want to assure you that the concerns that you have expressed are indeed the concerns of many of us in the African continent,” said Mr Kikwete, who called again for a unity government in Zimbabwe.

His words masked deep divisions in today’s meeting, and growing frustration among European governments, including the British, at the role played by Mr Mbeki.

Mr Brown hopes that the G8 will call for tougher UN and EU sanctions, and will back his call for a UN envoy to go to Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe was the only candidate in the June 27 run-off election after the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out because of state-sponsored violence against candidates and supporters of his the Movement for Democratic Change.

British officials came close to saying that Mr Mugabe should go, insisting that his election was not legitimate and pointing to the first poll in which the MDC leader finished ahead.

In a bid to show his continued leadership over Zimbabwe, Mr Mbeki flew to Harare at the weekend for a meeting between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai.

However, Mr Tsvangirai boycotted the meeting, saying Mr Mbeki could no longer be trusted and that a new mediation mechanism was needed to tackle the crisis in his country.

British officials believe Mr Tsvangirai’s refusal to meet with Mr Mbeki shows that the South African President is no longer the appropriate mediator between the two sides.

The United States also pointed to divergent views on Zimbabwe. “There were differences. Not all leaders are there yet,” said Dan Price, assistant to the president for international economic affairs. “It is fair to say that, you know, not all African leaders are in a position to support sanctions at this time.”

Asked how the White House would view a such a deal, Ms Perino said: “We’re waiting to see what it would look like.”

But G8 leaders suggested their patience had run out.

“The Mugabe regime is an illegitimate regime and it should not be tolerated. Public opinion in G8 countries questions why the world would tolerate such a regime and questions why Africa would tolerate such a regime,” a senior Canadian official quoted G8 leaders as telling their African counterparts. “A number of G8 leaders drew attention to the fact that if Africa were to develop, more than just official development assistance was needed. It required trade, it required investment and the image of Africa was suffering because of what was going on in Zimbabwe,” he told reporters.

An African Union summit issued a resolution last week calling for talks leading to a national unity government in Zimbabwe.

But despite heightened African criticism, Mr Mugabe, who attended the AU summit, seemed unchastened.

Mrs Merkel said she was willing to ramp up pressure on Mugabe.

“I have made very clear that I see the presidential election as illegitimate,” Mrs Merkel said.

“I do not rule out further sanctions against Zimbabwe.” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged a quick solution. “There was especially frank discussion underlining the damage that the current situation in Zimbabwe is making to the overall image of Africa and the need to find a quick solution for that very appalling and dramatic situation,” he said.