Mugabe says to attend EU-Africa summit - report

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LISBON, Nov 27 (Reuters) Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said he will attend a European Union-Africa summit in December in Lisbon, a Portuguese news agency quoted him as saying today.

''Yes, I'm going,'' he told Lusa in Mozambique.

The December 8-9 summit in Lisbon will be the first between the two continents in seven years. Previous efforts to meet have stumbled over whether Mugabe, whom the West accuses of widespread human rights violations, could be invited.

But pressed by competition from China in Africa, the EU wants this year's summit to take place, in part to solidify its position as Africa's largest trading partner.

Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, has come under fire from some countries and human rights activists for the invitation to Mugabe.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will not attend if Mugabe is present. Scandinavian EU members have also voiced concern about Mugabe's participation.

African leaders, however, see the Zimbabwean president as an independence hero and many have said they would not attend the Lisbon meeting if Zimbabwe were excluded.

Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado, who invited Mugabe, recently said he would prefer him not to come because his presence could distract from the essential point of the summit.

Western critics accuse Mugabe of ruining Zimbabwe's economy, rigging elections and violently suppressing opposition.

Mugabe denies he has wrecked the economy with policies such as seizing white-owned farms for blacks with little experience, and he blames Western pressure for hyperinflation and hunger.

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

Mugabe faces a visa ban in Europe which would have to be lifted for the summit.

REUTERS RJ SSC1536

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