Brown says UK government will not meet with Mugabe

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LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today neither he nor any senior member of his government would attend a planned summit of African and European leaders alongside Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Speaking at a news conference in London, Brown reiterated his determination to boycott the first European Union-Africa Union summit in seven years, scheduled for Lisbon in December, if Mugabe was present.

''I would not attend and no senior government minister will attend,'' he said. ''We are not prepared to sit down at the same table as Mr Mugabe.'' Critics accuse Mugabe of rigging elections, human rights abuses, and presiding over the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy, now marked by the world's highest inflation rate of about 6,600 percent and joblessness of about 80 per cent.

Mugabe blames Western powers for the economic crisis and accuses them -- and former colonial ruler Britain in particular -- of plotting with the opposition to oust him.

Brown accused Mugabe of an ''abuse of human rights'' in his country and creating ''poverty and degradation'' among his people.

Mugabe is subject to a European Union travel ban but that could be suspended to allow him to attend the December meeting.

Many African leaders, who want him there to help tackle the continent's problems, said they would boycott the summit if Mugabe did not attend.

Portugal, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has said all leaders are invited to the summit.

And faced with mounting competition for influence in Africa from resource-hungry China, other EU leaders have indicated they would attend the gathering, even with Mugabe.

REUTERS PD HS1839

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