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Managing Mugabe Seen Task For European-African Summit Organizers

The debate over whether Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should attend the European-Africa summit opening in Lisbon on Saturday has been resolved, but now the summit organizers and leaders attending must resolve the question of whether to take up the Zimbabwean crisis - and how to manage Mr. Mugabe himself.

Some observers have raised the possibility that having prevailed and won an invitation to the summit, Mr. Mugabe might hijack it to serve his own political agenda. The Times of London said many of Mr. Mugabe's opponents fear that "the wily octogenarian may spring a propaganda coup about his future on the EU-Africa summit this week."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will not attend the summit as he does not want to share a podium with Mr. Mugabe, whom he accuses of violating human rights and creating a humanitarian disaster in Zimbabwe with his policies.

Nor will any cabinet-level U.K. official be present. Instead, Britain will be represented by Baroness Amos, a former development secretary who is expected to tackle Mr. Mugabe during a summit session on governance and human rights.

Observers said Mr. Mugabe will counter critics by pointing to the crisis negotiations in progress with South African mediation as evidence Harare is serious about holding free and fair elections next year, when he will stand for another term in office.

Some argue that South African President Thabo Mbeki has an interest in highlighting gains in the talks he has been mediating, so he'll support Mr. Mugabe’s claims.

But there are indications Mr. Mugabe may not have the wholehearted backing of the African leaders at the summit. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa Monday urged Mr. Brown to “continue with his efforts" until the Zimbabwe crisis is resolved.

Independent political analyst Hermann Hanekom of Cape Town, South Africa, told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Mugabe may try to capitalize politically on the event, but larger African issues will come to the fore - although Zimbabwe is likely to come up in security or governance talks.

Meanwhile, Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom were headed for the Portuguese capital to protest Mr. Mugabe’s presence there, as Sandra Nyaira reported.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...