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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 18:38 GMT
Livingstone's surprise Cuba visit
by Tim Donovan
BBC London Politics Editor

Hugo Chavez and Ken Livingstone
President Chavez was a guest of the mayor in May
London's mayor is making a surprise trip to Cuba, flying on Thursday to the capital Havana as part of a week-long tour around Latin America.

It was known he was to visit Venezuela in a return visit which saw President Hugo Chavez visit London earlier this year.

But the Cuban leg of the tour was kept a closely guarded secret until Wednesday evening when he revealed on BBC London 94.9FM he was going to the Caribbean country.

He is due to attend the 11th World Sport For All Conference in Havana, an event sponsored by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

IOC president Jacques Rogge will also be attending and it is expected he will discuss with Mr Livingstone the controversy over the comments made by Jack Lemley, the head of London's 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority, who resigned last month.

Mr Lemley said the project's cost was already rising above estimates and he was finding it difficult to deal with the political elements.

'Just an excuse'

The mayor is also expected to attend a cricket match on Saturday, which will have coaches from London who are trying to encourage Cuban interest in the sport.

It is part of a continuing effort to improve links with Cuba, both in sport and in business, despite the country's diplomatic isolation and continuing US trade embargo.

There seems to be little benefit to Londoners from this trip as Mr. Livingstone joins President Chavez and his cronies in his obsessive pursuit of widening his anti-American alliance
London Assembly Conservatives leader Angie Bray
The British Embassy in Havana has not been given full details of Mr Livingstone's itinerary but he is a guest of the Havana municipal authorities and is likely to have meetings with senior officials.

The big question is whether he will get to meet Cuban President Fidel Castro, who temporarily stepped down earlier this year due to ill health.

Angie Bray, leader of the London Assembly Conservatives, said: "I know the World Sport For All conference is taking place within Cuba, but the UK already has representation there and why only turns up on the last day?

"More likely, given the well documented far left Socialist past of some of the mayor's closest advisors, is this not just an excuse to visit the last remaining bastion of 20th Century Marxism, and maybe also the gravely ill Fidel Castro - no doubt an ideological hero to some of his inner circle - all conducted at our expense?

"There seems to be little benefit to Londoners from this trip, only a great deal of expense, as Mr. Livingstone joins his comrade, President Chavez and his cronies, in his obsessive pursuit of widening his anti-American alliance."

A spokesman for the mayor said: "The Mayor was invited to Cuba by Colin Moynihan, the Chair of the BOA, to attend the Sport for All conference and for other Olympic related business."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch our Political Correspondent live from Havana



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