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Human Rights, Conflict Overshadow Broader Issues at Africa-Europe Summit

  • Scott Bobb

More than 70 leaders from Europe and Africa are gathering in Portugal for the summit of Africa and the European Union. The summit is to draft a strategy to guide cooperation on a broad range of areas. But, as we hear from correspondent Scott Bobb in Lisbon, the gathering is being overshadowed by war and political issues.

African and European leaders Saturday begin work on a strategic partnership aimed at forging a more balanced relationship over the coming years. But human rights issues and conflicts on the African continent continue to draw attention away from the main purpose of the gathering.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has arrived Thursday quietly in the Portuguese capital. He received an invitation despite being banned from Europe five years ago because of rigged elections in his country. His attendance prompted a boycott by the prime minister of Britain, the former colonial power in Zimbabwe.

The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, acknowledged Zimbabwe is a concern, asking how leaders who fought to free Africa from colonialism could now prohibit freedom among their own people.

Nevertheless, he says this is a summit of Europe and Africa, not just a European summit with Zimbabwe. And noting there are other countries with human rights concerns in Africa and in Europe he says the EU should address this question consistently with all its partners.

The summit is to issue a plan of action bolstering cooperation in the areas of peace and security, governance and human rights, trade and economic integration and in development.

The EU reportedly is preparing to announce an aid package for Africa totaling 1.2 billion euros - nearly $2 billion - for next year. This is set to rise to 2 billion euros - or $3 billion - by 2010.

The summit is drawing its share of protests, against atrocities and human rights violations in Sudan's Darfur region, Eritrea, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On the eve of the summit Friday, 40 European and African members of parliament issued a statement urging the leaders, in their words, not to turn their backs on the human suffering in Darfur. Several dozen human rights groups issued a similar statement.

And anti-globalization activists Friday marched near the summit site to protest agricultural policies that threaten small farms.

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