Portugal would prefer Mugabe not to come to summit

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LISBON, Nov 21 (Reuters) Portugal would prefer that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe did not come to an EU-Africa summit in December, Foreign Minister Luis Amado said today, indicating for the first time that Mugabe is not welcome.

Portugal has come under pressure from some countries and from human rights activists not to invite Mugabe, whom they accuse of rights abuses.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will not come if Mugabe is present. Scandinavian EU members have also voiced concern about Mugabe coming.

African countries have insisted that Mugabe must be invited and Lisbon's line up to now has been that it would not discriminate in its invitations and would invite all African heads of state.

Mugabe, who faces a visa ban in Europe which would have to be lifted for the summit, has said he will attend and has been sent an invitation.

''If you ask me if I would like him (Mugabe) to come to Lisbon I would say that I would prefer that he would not come,'' Amado said in comments aired by local radio station TSF.

''Because it will create noise around the summit that in my point of view will distract from the essential points to discuss at the summit.'' Amado, whose country is hosting the summit under its six-month presidency of the European Union, said he did not know who would turn up.

''We never know what level of participation there will be and it is the different countries that decide on participation and as such we will wait until the end to see who comes and who does not,'' he said.

The EU agreed on Monday to send a ''clear and tough'' message to Mugabe on human rights at the summit and the EU will send an envoy to the country to assess the rights situation before the December meeting.

Western critics accuse Mugabe of ruining Zimbabwe's economy, rigging elections and suppressing opponents violently but African leaders see him as an independence hero.

The EU-Africa summit in Lisbon on Dec. 8-9 will be the first in seven years. Portugal made it one of its priorities during its EU presidency after previous attempts failed because of disagreement over whether Mugabe should be invited.

REUTERS RSA RN2334

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