African leaders accuse Brown of 'arm-twisting'

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown faces a diplomatic row over his decision to boycott a major summit between European and African leaders if Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is allowed to attend.

The Prime Minister was accused of "arm twisting" and was warned that other African leaders would boycott the talks if President Mugabe was not allowed to attend.

Mr Brown's spokesman yesterday repeated his vow not to attend as Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN insisted that Mr Mugabe would attend the Lisbon summit in December if he was invited.

Zimbabwe's UN ambassador, Boniface Chidyausiku, said Mr Brown had "no right to dictate" who should be at the summit.

He told the BBC's Newsnight programme that Mr Mugabe "has a sovereign right" to attend the summit. He said: "He is part of Africa. Gordon Brown has no right to dictate who should come to Lisbon."

He added: "The quarrel is between Britain and Zimbabwe. The United Kingdom Government [is] trying to put this quarrel into a multilateral forum.

"Really the meeting between Europe and Africa should go ahead. There are bigger issues to discuss than the differences between the UK and Zimbabwe."

The Prime Minister also faced strong criticism from The Tanzanian president of the Pan-African Parliament, Gertrude Mongella, who accused him of trying to "manipulate" Africa and insisted that "arm twisting" by rich nations would not solve the problems of the crisis-hit state.

Dr Mongella said: "We do know there are some problems, but if somebody wants to arm-twist Zimbabwe, that's not the best way to solve the problems. I think this is again another way of manipulating Africa. Zimbabwe is a nation which got independence.

"I think in the developed world there are so many countries doing things which not all of us subscribe to: we have seen the Iraq war – not everyone accepts what is being done in Iraq."

Dr Mongella added: "So if we want to talk about the people of Zimbabwe, we should not punish them by the actions of their leaders. I think if we want to move in the right direction, with the African way of doing things, you discuss things under a tree till you agree. So if somebody does not come under a tree to discuss, that is not the African way of doing things."

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa warned that he would stay away from the summit if Mr Mugabe is barred. He said: "I will not go to Portugal if Mugabe is not allowed."

The Portuguese insisted that the summit would go ahead, and said that they wanted Mr Brown to contribute. "This is much more important than Mr Mugabe," Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado said.

But Mr Brown found support on the Labour ranks. Labour MP Kate Hoey said: "I'm very pleased the Prime Minister has shown leadership on this issue. He is striking out a blow for democracy by doing this and unlike the previous prime minister Gordon Brown really does, I believe, genuinely care about poverty in Africa."

Downing Street declined to say yesterday whether Mr Brown would veto any form of British delegation attending the summit if Mr Mugabe attends. Mr Brown's spokesman said: "He is not dictating to anybody else who can go and who cannot go. He is making his position clear that, on the assumption that things work out as expected, he will not go."

He said it was too early to say whether Britain would have any other representation at the December summit and added: "This is an issue that will need to be considered over the weeks and months ahead, depending on what happens, but the Prime Minister has made his position clear."

The Prime Minister is attempting to persuade the EU to extend existing sanctions against the Mugabe regime which include a travel ban on 131 senior figures associated with the Zanu-PF regime.

Tony Blair stayed away from the first EU-Africa summit in Cairo seven years ago because of Mr Mugabe's presence. In 2003, an EU-African summit in Lisbon was called off when some African nations balked at the EU's refusal to invite Mr Mugabe.