Zimbabwe says Mugabe to attend EU summit

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HARARE, Sep 25 (Reuters) President Robert Mugabe will attend an EU-Africa summit in Portugal in December despite a boycott threat by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Zimbabwe's information minister said today.

Brown said last week it would be inappropriate for him to attend the meeting because Mugabe's presence would divert attention from important agenda items.

The summit between the two continental blocs failed to take place in 2003 after Britain and other EU states -- who accuse Mugabe of rights abuses -- refused to attend if he did.

But Zimbabwe's Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told journalists the veteran ruler had the support of the African Union (AU) and regional African leaders and would go to Lisbon.

''Mugabe is one of the most senior heads of state in Africa ... inseparable from the AU, so his attendance in Lisbon should not be questioned,'' Ndlovu said.

''His attendance is not predicated on any Western head of state or EU member attending or not attending.'' In Lisbon, a spokeswoman for the Portuguese foreign ministry said no invitations had been sent yet. ''There will be no discrimination, we want everybody to come,'' she said.

Portuguese officials have said the EU and Africa have a range of important issues to discuss, such as immigration. They say China's increasing inroads into Africa have made it yet more important for Europe and Africa to increase cooperation.

Ndlovu said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had taken a position to support Mugabe against those seeking his exclusion from the summit.

''It is abundantly clear that if any pressure is put on Portugal not to invite President Mugabe, SADC will also not attend and the AU will not attend. AU is one, SADC is one,'' he said.

Both SADC and the AU have warned Lisbon that the summit might not occur again if Mugabe, who is banned from travelling to parts of Western Europe as a result of targeted sanctions, was barred from Portugal.

Critics accuse Mugabe of running down one of Africa's most promising economies, which has the highest inflation rate in the world at 6,600 per cent and persistent food shortages.

Mugabe, 83 and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, accuses Western countries of sabotaging the economy as punishment for his seizure of white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks.

REUTERS AE HT0000

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