Bar Mugabe from EU-Africa meet, say Nordic countries

Sweden and Finland on Thursday called for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to be excluded from a European Union-Africa summit in December but left open whether they would join a British boycott if he showed up.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said he had not decided whether to attend the December 8 to 9 summit in Lisbon if Mugabe came, adding that serious discussion on Zimbabwe and human rights was a precondition for his attendance.

Pressed by competition for scarce resources with China, the European Union wants to hold its first summit with African leaders in seven years in December, but has not yet solved the thorny issue of Mugabe’s attendance.

”We are asking the [EU] Portuguese Presidency to tell him that he should not be here and he should certainly not be given a central role,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told Reuters on the margins of a meeting of EU leaders in Lisbon.

Asked if he would consider boycotting the summit, Reinfeldt said the EU should take a collective decision on the matter.

Separately, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said he would decide whether to participate only after it was decided who would represent Zimbabwe.

”I hope that Zimbabwe can be at the meeting at another level [than Mugabe],” Vanhanen told Reuters, noting arrangements for an EU-Asia summit last year where the military leadership of Burma was represented only by a minister.

All three countries, which pride themselves on being pro-active in pushing for respect of human rights around the world, said the EU-Africa summit was crucial and that they wanted it to take place.

”We have not decided yet [whether to attend] but for us it is very important to have this EU-Africa summit … we have a lot of common interests, we have a lot of very important issues to discuss,” Denmark’s Rasmussen told Reuters.

Critics accuse Mugabe of rigging elections, human rights abuses and presiding over the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy, now marked by the world’s highest inflation rate and joblessness of about 80%.

Mugabe blames Western powers for the economic crisis and accuses them, and former colonial ruler Britain in particular, of plotting with the opposition to oust him. African leaders see him as an independence hero.

Mugabe is subject to an EU travel ban but the ban can be suspended to allow him to attend the December summit in Lisbon.

The EU and Africa have failed to organise a summit for years because Britain and other EU states refused to attend if Mugabe did, and African leaders would not attend if he was barred.

Lisbon says it will invite all leaders this time, including Mugabe, but it has yet to send the invitations. Portuguese diplomats have said the invitations will be sent on October 30.

Officials say many EU states, pressed by competition from China in Africa, back Portugal.

However, Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra told reporters last week that his country was also considering boycotting the meeting if Mugabe attends it. — Reuters

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