Lisbon, Portugal (AP) — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said Tuesday he would attend an upcoming Europe-Africa summit, ensuring his standoff with Britain will overshadow efforts to forge stronger political and economic ties between the two continents.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterated he would stay away from the Dec. 8-9 meeting in Lisbon because of Mugabe.
Britain is one of the sharpest European critics of Mugabe's regime, accusing him of economic mismanagement, failure to curb corruption and contempt for democracy.
"Given the circumstances of the last 10 years and our attempts to give assistance in Zimbabwe, which have been thwarted and resisted, it is not possible for us to attend this summit and sit down with President Mugabe," Brown said in London Tuesday.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stayed away from the first EU-Africa summit in Cairo seven years ago because of Mugabe's presence, and in 2003 a planned EU-Africa summit in the Portuguese capital was called off when some African nations balked at the EU's refusal to invite Mugabe.
Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, wants the summit of the 27-nation EU and the 53-member African Union to usher in closer cooperation between the continents and counter the influence of China, which has invested billions of euros (dollars) in Africa in recent years.
At the insistence of the AU, Portugal invited all Africa's leaders. In Brussels, EU officials said that South African President Thabo Mbeki had said he would boycott if Mugabe was not invited. Even in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her government was in favor of all countries being invited.
African leaders say that while they may not support Mugabe's policies, they believe dialogue is the best way to address Zimbabwe's economic and political crises. Mbeki has said he is making progress in attempts to mediate between Mugabe's party and its main opposition. African leaders also are loath to be seen as abandoning one of their own under pressure from a former colonial power.
Asked Tuesday about the summit, Mugabe told Portugal's national news agency Lusa during a visit to Mozambique: "Yes, I'm going."
Portuguese officials say they would prefer Mugabe stay away because his presence would divert attention from agenda issues such as human rights, good governance, global warming, immigration and trade.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade was scheduled to fly to Zimbabwe late Tuesday to meet with Mugabe in an attempt to mediate the standoff. Senegalese presidential spokeswoman Fatou Tandiang did not provide details on Wade's goals for the meeting. She said Wade was undertaking the talks as a fellow head of state, and not as a representative of the African Union or other regional body.
Britain was not behind Wade's trip, but supported his effort, said a spokeswoman in Britain's Foreign Office, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
Associated Press writers David Stringer in London, Constant Brand in Brussels and Heidi Vogt in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.