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Mugabe shuns EU-Africa talks after wife denied visa

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe will boycott the mammoth European Union-Africa summit after his wife Grace Mugabe was denied a visa to enter Europe, a foreign ministry official said on Friday.

"We are no longer going to the EU-Africa. We disagreed on the composition of our delegation," said a source at the ministry, who asked not to be named.

Harare had earlier on Friday urged the African Union to shun the summit for failing to invite all the African bloc leaders and lift a ban on Zimbabwe's first lady.

But diplomats in Brussels were unfazed by the call for a boycott from a country that is in line to chair the AU next year.

"We see no risk" of a boycott of the April 2 to April 3 summit, which gathers 90 nations from both continents, including 65 heads of state and government, said a senior official speaking on condition of anonymity.

In Harare, foreign ministry spokesperson Joey Bimha said the EU had not invited Sudan and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which does not have international recognition. But Egypt, which has been suspended from the AU, had been given the nod.

Another concern is "the issue of our first lady, who was denied a visa", said Bimha.

'Strange' decision 
An EU travel ban on Mugabe and his wife is still in place, but the restriction can be suspended temporarily to allow the head of state to attend international forums.

"We have been discussing this for some time. We have reached agreement and Zimbabwe has been invited but no spouses have been invited," the EU official said.

The EU ambassador to Harare, Aldo Dell'Ariccia, said that when Zimbabwe asked for a visa for Mugabe's wife "they were told she should apply through the normal channels".

"The EU is just following its legal framework and there can't be any movement from that position," said Dell'Ariccia.

Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba on Tuesday said the EU's decision was "very strange".

"What God has put together the EU is trying to separate," said Charamba in state-controlled daily newspaper the Herald. "Do they expect the president to respect the EU and disrespect his own marriage?"

'Poisoned relations'
Rashweat Mukundu of political think-tank Zimbabwe Democracy Institute said the row is just "a symptom of poisoned relations" between Zimbabwe and the EU, "and old wounds that are proving difficult to heal".

Both sides should have taken "a sober approach" to resolving their long-standing differences, said Mukundu.

Although the EU has refused to invite Sudan, the Brussels official said the AU was free to invite the country's president, Omar al-Bashir.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide related to the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Mugabe was in January elected one of the two deputy chairs of the AU and will automatically chair the organisation next year. – AFP

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