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Mugabe storm holds summit hostage

THE storm over President Robert Mugabe’s presence at the two-day EU-Africa summit which begins in Portugal tomorrow intensified yesterday as the veteran leader left for the controversial meeting.

Mugabe left Harare for Lisb

on yesterday amid growing criticism by Western governments that his attendance would divert the summit from its set agenda. Mugabe’s invitation triggered strong protests largely in EU.

EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel this week said he was upset that there was a serious danger of Mugabe holding the summit hostage.

“I’m a bit upset to see there is a risk that the summit will be taken hostage by that question (Mugabe’s attendance),” Michel told reporters. “If that were the case, I would be not only sad but angry, because it would be a missed opportunity, and we cannot afford a missed opportunity.”

The EU said the summit is not about Zimbabwe and therefore the issue should not be allowed to distract attention from more serious matters.

Michel noted there had been three China-Africa summits since the last EU-Africa meeting in Cairo in 2000, and even Japan was preparing a summit with Africa. The United States already has its own summit with Africa.

This shows there is a new scramble for Africa underway as big powers compete for the continent’s abundant resources. The EU, which traditionally had a stranglehold on Africa, wants to re-establish its grip on the continent.

Despite that, most African and EU leaders have said Mugabe must attend, Spain backed Britain in calling for Mugabe to stay away from the summit. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Czech counterpart Mirek Topolanek have announced boycotts of the summit, showing there are serious divisions over his presence at the meeting. Portugal said even if it invited Mugabe it would have loved to see him not attending.

“We would all prefer that he does not take part because he will not bring much and he would be a media distraction,” Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said. “What is important is to discuss subjects in depth and that his presence does not take up all the headlines.”

Portugal Foreign Minister Luis Amado recently said it was “preferable” if Mugabe did not attend, since he might divert participants from essential issues.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Mugabe’s participation would be an opportunity to “raise all our criticisms” about the “disaster” in Zimbabwe.

Irish Prime Minister Taoiseach Bertie Ahern this week said it would be an “absolute waste of time” to boycott a summit because Mugabe’s would be anywhere.

He said staying away from the summit would have “no value or purpose”.

“It is a pity we have to deal with the Zimbabwe situation but I do not believe we should allow Zimbabwe to spoil or dominate the proceedings,” Ahern said. “Boycotting or staying away from the summit is an absolute waste of time and will have no value or purpose. It is always best in respect of these issues to go and say our piece.”

He also said he would use his time at the summit to say “a few harsh things” about Mugabe’s regime. “I have nothing good to say about the regime in Zimbabwe and how it treats its people,” he said.

The African Union and the Sadc region lobbied for Mugabe’s invitation to the summit through threats to boycott if he was not invited.

However, it is said some African leaders, in particular in West Africa, were upset by Mugabe’s rejection of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s initiative last week and might leave Mugabe to face the music in Lisbon. Last week Nigerian President said he was opposed to what was going on in Zimbabwe.

Although Mugabe appears to think he has scored a diplomatic coup by leaving Brown isolated, his presence in Lisbon might turn out to be a nightmare as most EU leaders have vowed to attack him for misrule, repression and economic mismanagement. — Staff Writers.

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