By John O’Doherty
Published: September 19 2007 23:28 | Last updated: September 19 2007 23:28
Tensions over Europe’s policy on Africa have come to a head after Gordon Brown said he would not attend a crucial EU-Africa summit in Lisbon in December, to protest the attendance of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
“President Mugabe is the only African leader to face an EU travel ban,” the prime minister said in an article in Thursday’s Independent newspaper in the UK. “There is a reason for this – the abuse of his own people. There is no freedom in Zimbabwe: no freedom of association; no freedom of the press. And there is widespread torture and mass intimidation of the political opposition.”
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European diplomats had been quietly hoping that Mr Mugabe would not attend the summit.
However, several months ago the 53 members of the African Union made clear to José Socrates, Portugal’s prime minister, that they would boycott the summit if the EU did not allow Zimbabwe to attend.
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, is believed to have told a meeting of EU foreign ministers earlier this month that Mr Brown would not attend the summit if Mr Mugabe was invited.
The announcement that Mr Brown is to boycott the summit will come as a blow to Portugal, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU and has made the success of the summit a priority.
The EU is keen to increase co-operation with Africa on issues of immigration and development as China steps up its investment in the continent.
The Lisbon summit is to be the first of its kind since an EU-Africa meeting in Cairo in 2000. Attempts to hold another summit in 2003 were derailed by the possibility of Mr Mugabe attending.
This latest setback presents the hosts with an excruciating choice – either blacklist Mr Mugabe and risk a boycott by other African countries, or allow Mr Mugabe to attend and risk the absence of Britain and perhaps other European countries.