Australia obliged to greet Mugabe

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The Independent Online

In six weeks Australia will play host to President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, like it or not. That was the blunt reality spelt out by Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, yesterday as calls mounted for Mr Mugabe to be banned from the meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government in Brisbane.

Mr Downer said he understood public concerns at developments in Zimbabwe, but Australia was obliged to welcome all leaders to the three-day conference on 6 October. He repeated the position outlined by the Foreign Office last week: delegations can be banned only if their country has been expelled from the Commonwealth. Forty-nine of the 53 eligible Commonwealth nations, including Zimbabwe, have accepted invitations to the meeting..

Two MPs in John Howard's conservative government called for Mr Mugabe to be banned because of violence against white farmers by pro-government militants. One, Peter Slipper, called him "a dangerous, malicious dictator who has pursued a vicious personal vendetta against white farmers". That was criticised yesterday as uninformed and racist by Florence Chitauro, the Zimbabwean high commissioner to Australia. Kim Beazley, the Opposition leader, said Mr Mugabe should attend so his democratic failings could be addressed by fellow leaders.

The Australian authorities are bracing themselves for mass anti-capitalist protests outside the meeting and a possible repetition of the violence that has marked recent summits.