Hero's welcome for Mugabe

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A hero's welcome was being prepared yesterday for Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, with state media portraying his visit to Portugal for a weekend summit as a triumph despite the criticism he faced there over his human rights record.

Mugabe, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, was "an indisputable icon of African nationalism" who took centre stage at the summit and made "some of the European heads of government and his detractors including Angela Merkel look like dwarfs," information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, the chief government spokesman, was quoted as saying in state media today.

Official media in Zimbabwe reported that Mugabe "stole the show" in Lisbon. Busloads of supporters were seen being driven to the main Harare airport, evidently to welcome him home.

German Chancellor Merkel had said as the special Europe-Africa summit opened on Saturday that the EU was "united" in condemning Mugabe for what critics inside and outside Zimbabwe view as his economic mismanagement, failure to curb corruption and contempt for democracy.

That prompted The Herald, the Zimbabwean government mouthpiece, to call her a "Nazi remnant". The Herald quoted Mr Ndlovu as accusing her of "racism of the first order".

Mr Ndlovu had racially-charged criticism for Baroness Valerie Amos, who represented Britain in Portugal after Prime Minister Gordon Brown stayed away to protest at Mugabe's attendance.

"If she (Amos) has a soul, she would understand that she is being used by her master against her own people," Mr Ndlovu said.

At the summit, Ms Amos, who is black, "emphasised the importance of the summit's goals and set out a number of stark and shocking statistics, such as the average life expectancy for women in Zimbabwe, which is 34," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

In his summit speech, Zimbabwean media reported today, Mugabe described Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands as "a gang of four" that sided with Britain in attacking him.

Mugabe said Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Belgium, Austria, Romania and Finland did not mention Zimbabwe at the summit and "this confirmed northern Europe as the hard-liners while the southerners have a different approach to Zimbabwe," The Herald reported.

Mugabe accused his critics in the EU of "arrogance" and said they had been misinformed about Zimbabwe's situation.