EU to invite all members of African Union to summit

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LISBON, Oct 30 (Reuters) The European Union will send invitations this week to leaders of all African Union nations, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, to attend an EU-Africa summit in December, EU president Portugal said today.

Past efforts to hold such a meeting have foundered over whether to invite Mugabe, accused of human rights abuses. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has threatened to boycott the long-delayed event if the veteran leader comes.

''Invitations will be sent to all leaders of the African Union,'' Pedro Courela, an assistant to Portugal's secretary of state for foreign affairs, told Reuters.

''It should be we, the EU, sending out the invitations later. But this is something we still have to decide with the African Union,'' he added.

Courela was speaking by telephone from an EU meeting with the African Union in Ghana's capital Accra to prepare for the December 8-9 Lisbon summit.

Some Nordic countries and the Czech Republic are also expected to take a hard line if Mugabe attends.

African leaders see the Zimbabwean president as an independence hero but western critics accuse him of ruining the economy, rigging elections and violently suppressing the opposition. The EU has imposed sanctions on his government, including a visa ban on top officials.

Mugabe, 83, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, denies he has wrecked the economy with policies such as seizing white-owned farms for blacks with little experience, blaming Western pressure for hyperinflation and hunger.

Portuguese diplomats have justified holding the first EU-Africa summit in seven years to counter China's growing investments and influence over the commodities-rich continent.

''The Chinese don't ask questions in Africa and we cannot ignore their growing influence,'' said a diplomat close the EU presidency, who asked not to be named.

The 27-member EU is Africa's largest trading partner with trade totalling more than 288.1 billion dollar last year. China was third in 2006 with 43 billion euros in trade.

REUTERS RJ BD2100

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