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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 17:08 GMT
France defies UK over Mugabe
Robert Mugabe
Mugabe blames his problems on the UK
France has confirmed that it is inviting Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to take part in a summit of African Heads of State next month.

Mr Mugabe is currently banned from entering the European Union because of doubts about the legitimacy of his re-election last year.

It amounts to a recognition and support of Mugabe's gruesome record at home

Morgan Tsvangirai
MDC
But French President Jacques Chirac was convinced that the Zimbabwean leader's presence at the summit would help promote justice, human rights and democracy in his country, foreign ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau told journalists.

The EU travel ban, along with a freeze on his assets, were imposed last February. The UK Government will seek to renew it at a meeting of foreign ministers next week.

If the sanctions are not extended, Mr Mugabe will be able to attend the summit on 19 February - the day after they expire.

Correspondents say that France sees itself as Africa's best friend on the international stage. It recently extended a $3m grant to help some eight million people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe.

As relations between the UK and Zimbabwe have deteriorated, France has been moving closer to Mr Mugabe's government.

Mr Rivasseau said France understand the "emotion and indignation" of the British over the visit, but said that no sanctions would be broken.

'Affront'

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has condemned the French offer.

"Any avenue granted to Mugabe to attend international meetings at which he is treated as a statesman and an equal is an affront to the feelings of the people of Zimbabwe," said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Farmer with dead cow
Eight million Zimbabweans need food aid
"It amounts to a recognition and support of Mugabe's gruesome record at home."

UK government minister Peter Hain said: "As far as we are concerned he is not welcome in Europe.

"Our views on his odious regime and the way he is devastating his country are well known.

"I am sure the French share that view."

But British Member of the European Parliament Glenys Kinnock said the UK was considering doing a deal to let Mr Mugabe attend the Franco-African summit.

London might allow the Paris visit to happen in return for an assurance that Mr Mugabe will not be invited to the EU-Africa summit in Portugal in May, she said.

Cricket, then Paris?

A total of 72 people closely linked to Zimbabwe's leaders are subject to EU sanctions.

The United States also imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders following Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election.

Riot police
The opposition says it is not free to operate

The MDC and some donors accuse the Zimbabwe Government of diverting food aid from opposition areas despite the severe food crisis in the country.

Mr Mugabe blames the shortages on drought, but the opposition and donors say his controversial land reform programme has worsened the situation.

Several MDC MPs have been arrested in recent weeks, accused of planning to disrupt Cricket World Cup matches, which Zimbabwe is hosting just days before Mr Mugabe is due to travel to Paris.

One MP, Job Sikhala, said he was tortured by police while in custody.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Any signs of appeasing Mr Mugabe will anger Zimbabwe's opposition"
  Michael Ancram, Conservative spokesman
"I think it's very bad for the poor suffering people of Zimbabwe"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should Mugabe be allowed to travel to Europe?

Yes
 20.92% 

No
 79.08% 

16610 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

06 Mar 01 | Africa
14 Jan 03 | Cricket
12 Jan 03 | Africa
13 Jan 03 | Africa
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