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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 17:43 GMT
Campaigner freed by French police
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell protests in front of the Justice Ministry in Paris
Peter Tatchell (right) and President Mugabe are old adversaries
British human rights activist Peter Tatchell has been released by police in France, who stopped him as he was waiting to confront Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

Mr Tatchell and another campaigner were seized by officers outside a Metro station on Thursday.

They were questioned by French police over the demonstration against Mr Mugabe, who is attending a summit in Paris.

Our intention is to continue hunting Mugabe and making sure his human rights abuses are the number one issue of this shameful summit
Peter Tatchell

Controversy over the Zimbabwean president's presence at the Franco-African summit has helped overshadow the event.

On his release Mr Tatchell said he and his campaigners were planning "a peaceful protest against Mr Mugabe's human rights abuses" as the president arrived for a heads of state lunch at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

"Our placards and Zimbabwe flag were confiscated and we were pushed up against a police van and searched. Then we were bundled into the van," said Mr Tatchell.

Demands

He and Mr Wilkinson, a Zimbabwean who lives in exile in London and is director of the Zimbabwe Association, were questioned for about an hour and warned to stop protesting.

"This is some of the most draconian, oppressive policy that I have ever encountered, Mr Tatchell said afterwards.

He claimed that police said they were acting on orders of the French government, banning protests against the summit.

But he said: "Our intention is to continue hunting Mugabe and making sure his human rights abuses are the number one issue of this shameful summit."

Mr Tatchell had demanded Mr Mugabe be put on trial in the French capital for alleged torture.

Instead of inviting Mugabe to lunch.. the French government should arrest him and put him on trial
Peter Tatchell

Before his arrest, Mr Tatchell said: "Instead of inviting Mugabe to lunch at the Foreign Affairs ministry the French government should arrest him and put him on trial."

Boycott fears

Mr Tatchell filed a formal complaint with the French authorities on Wednesday.

French President Jacques Chirac's invitation to Mr Mugabe to the summit has angered several European countries including the UK and the US.

European governments eventually agreed to allow Mr Mugabe's visit, despite an EU travel ban in protest at human rights abuses.

The fear was other African leaders would boycott the event in his absence.

In return Paris backed the renewal of EU sanctions against Mr Mugabe, his wife and other government officials.

Beaten

Mr Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, has criticised Mr Mugabe's record of homophobic statements.

Several years ago Mr Mugabe branded homosexuals "worse than pigs or dogs".

Mr Tatchell was beaten by presidential bodyguards when he tried to carry out a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe in Brussels.

This time round he filed an action under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which France has signed.

Representatives and leaders from 52 African countries are attending the summit, which stresses the importance of the two sides coming together "in a new partnership".





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SEE ALSO:
Opposition despair in Zimbabwe
20 Feb 03 |  Africa
Tatchell defends Mugabe 'arrest'
06 Mar 01 |  UK News
Mugabe to fly into French storm
19 Feb 03 |  Africa



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