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As European, African Leaders Gather, Spotlight Still On Robert Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe flew into Lisbon Thursday afternoon amid tight security two days before the start of a European Union-African Union summit at which he seemed likely to remain as much a focus of interest and controversy as he has for months.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told journalists that the summit should not be dominated by the polemic around Mr. Mugabe's presence - though the crisis in the Southern African country would be a topic of discussion.

"There has been a very negative trend in the Zimbabwe regime and this is something we will have to broach," he said."But this is not just a summit to look at Zimbabwe."

Barroso and EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel were asked if they'd shake hands with Mr. Mugabe. Barroso said that in politics "you have to meet people your mother would not like to see you with." Michel responded that "I don't think that I will have the opportunity to shake his hand and I will not look for the opportunity."

Barroso said he sought a "new departure" in EU-Africa relations to get beyond the roles of donors and beneficiaries to establish a real economic partnership.

Barroso said he regretted that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is boycotting the summit along with his entire cabinet, instead sending former development secretary Baroness Amos to represent Britain."If we have a rule not to go to conferences that are attended by countries that do not respect human rights, I'm afraid that we are not going to participate in many global conferences," Barroso commented.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, chairman of the Southern African Development Community, this week criticized Brown for cutting the summit. Mwanawasa, one of the rare African leaders to publicly criticize Mr. Mugabe, told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Brown should have come to make his points on the Zimbabwe crisis.

Some African leaders said the summit is not the place to bring up Zimbabwe. But a South African official said Africa cannot forbid discussion of the situation.

For a view on the pre-summit scene in Lisbon, reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Zimbabwean youth activist Sydney Chisi, who said tight security kept journalists away from Mr. Mugabe as he made his arrival.

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