NASSAU, Bahamas -- Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and other leaders of Britain's former colonies called Wednesday for sanctions against South Africa's white-minority government, a move British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has resisted.
'The ruling clique of Pretoria is waging war against the people of South Africa,' Gandhi told delegates from 46 countries at the opening session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. 'It is using every brutal weapon in its armory to subdue and humiliate them.'
Gandhi's remarks were echoed by the leaders of Malaysia, the Bahamas, Australia, Canada and Zimbabwe, who also addressed the first session of the 7-day meeting at the luxurious Cable Beach Hotel and Convention Center.
The Commonwealth leaders also denounced international terrorism, the nuclear arms buildup and called for measures to ease economic inequality and the debt burden among developing countries.
'There is not present here today a government leader who has not already stated his or her profound repugnance with apartheid,' said Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. 'We must now seek a common approach to ensure its disappearance from our international life.'
Gandhi, who succeeded his mother Indira Gandhi in October 1984 following her assassination, flew to the Bahamas from London, where he met with Thatcher and urged her to impose sanctions against South Africa.
'The Nassau Commonwealth Meeting must demand comprehensive and mandatory sanctions,' he told delegates.
Britain has banned sales of oil and arms to South Africa, but Thatcher has resisted further sanctions, saying such a move would harm the disenfranchised black majority. Britain's $15.5 billion worth of investments in South Africa dwarf those of the United States, which has imposed limited sanctions.
Thatcher arrived just hours before the start of the conference and was the guest at a lunch given by Gandhi at the elegant Royal Bahamian Hotel, nestled among palm trees and white sand about four miles west of the capital.
Commonwealth Secretary General Shridath Ramphal expressed optimism that the delegates would reach some sort of consensus on a package of sanctions against South Africa.
'I am fairly sure that at the end of the day, given the overwhelming sentiment of the commonwealth for effective economic measures to be taken against South Africa, there will be that substantial area of agreement,' Ramphal told reporters.
The conference hall where the delegates met was decorated with hundreds of tropical plants, life-size pink flamingos, and a stuffed marlin posed in a pool.
The Bahamian government of Sir Lynden Pindling allocated $5 million for the conference. Critics estimated up to $20 million was spent to spruce up the capital and provide security, transportation, and accommodations for the dignitaries.
Police said some 2,000 agents were deployed around the island and at the Cable Beach complex of resort hotels.
On Friday, the delegates will retreat for the weekend to the exclusive Lyford Cay, a 4,000-acre peninsula of lush foliage and navigable canals that is off limits to the general public. Most agreements are expected to be worked out in the private discussions during the retreat.
The commonwealth numbers 49 states, but Tuvalu and Nauru do not participate in the heads of government meetings and Western Samoa did not send a delegation.
A majority of the members are developing countries and racial and economic issues have figured as the main topics of discussion.
Pressure from members opposed to racial discrimination forced South Africa to withdraw from the commonwealth in 1963.