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Zimbabwe's Mugabe Flies to Portugal Despite EU Travel Ban


Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe flew to Portugal, breaking a travel ban the European Union imposed in 2002 on the country's top government and ruling party officials. For VOA, Peta Thornycroft has this report.

President Mugabe's aircraft, an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767, took off from Harare airport mid-day Thursday on an unscheduled flight to Lisbon ahead of the long-delayed summit between the African Union and the European Union. African states said they will not go to the summit if Mugabe was not invited.

Portugal, the host, says it wants the first European-African summit in seven years to strike a new strategic partnership that will focus on issues such as counterterrorism, illegal immigration, trade, debt relief, climate change and international peacekeeping.

Africa's leaders say they are determined not to let Europe set the agenda and are demanding to be treated as equals. But that could be threatened with Mugabe's presence at the summit

Some analysts say the summit's agenda could turn into a debate over corruption, human rights, torture and Africa's post-colonial failures.

So far, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will boycott the summit, citing Mr. Mugabe's record for repression and economic mismanagement.

Leaders in the Czech Republic and Spain also suggested that Mr. Mugabe might want to stay away. Even Portugal's foreign minister, who officially invited Zimbabwe and issued Mr. Mugabe's visa, says it would be "preferable" if he didn't attend.

In 2002, the EU imposed a travel ban on 130 of Zimbabwe's top government and ruling party officials, including Mugabe, after violent presidential elections which the EU was banned from observing.

Several analysts say the British prime minister's boycott has played into Mugabe's hands and ensured that the political crisis in Zimbabwe remains where the Zimbabwean leader wants it, as a bilateral issue.

Zimbabwe's economy has collapsed, and the country now boasts the world's highest inflation rate, well over 7,000 percent a year. More than 80 percent of Zimbabweans are unemployed and after eight years of economic decline there are estimates that a quarter of them have fled to neighboring countries.


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