Brown to boycott summit if Mugabe attends

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown threatened on Wednesday to boycott a summit of European and African leaders if Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe is allowed to attend.

He called on fellow heads of state to increase pressure on Harare before the planned December talks between the European Union and African Union in Lisbon.

A deepening economic and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe is ”appalling and tragic,” Brown said in an opinion article for the Independent newspaper’s Thursday edition, available late on Wednesday in London.

”President Mugabe is the only African leader to face an EU travel ban,” Brown wrote. ”There is a reason for this — the abuse of his own people. There is no freedom in Zimbabwe; no freedom of association; no freedom of the press.”

He claimed Mugabe was responsible for ”widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition”.

Mugabe’s presence at the summit on December 8 and 9 would divert ”attention from the important issues that need to be resolved,” Brown wrote. ”In those circumstances, my attendance would not be appropriate.”

The EU has imposed a travel ban on Mugabe and other government members in response to authoritarian policies that have brought Zimbabwe to the brink of collapse.

Brown has been urged to act in recent days by Archbishop of York, John Sentamu and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

”By now it ought to be clear that the softly softly approach — quiet diplomacy — has not worked at all and we want something a little more forthright, a little more categorical,” Tutu told ITV News on Tuesday.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned in a report on Tuesday that Zimbabwe ”is closer than ever to complete collapse”, saying four out of five of the country’s 12-million people live below the poverty line.

Inflation in Zimbabwe may hit 100 000% by the end of the year, the International Monetary Fund has warned.

Brown said Britain would lead efforts to rebuild Zimbabwe’s economy and infrastructure once it is able to intervene.

”Britain will not shirk our responsibilities to the people of Zimbabwe and I am determined that we do all we can to help them forge a better future,” he wrote. – Sapa-AP

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