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Outrage As Zimbabwe's Mugabe Attends Food Security Summit In Rome

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s presence in Rome this week for a United Nations summit on the global impact of surging food prices has stirred outrage as his international critics charged that as Mr. Mugabe joins discussions at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization his policies at home have left millions hungry.

The summit opens on Tuesday. Mr. Mugabe was in Rome on Monday.

A statement issued by the White House Monday in the name of U.S. President George Bush voiced concern at reports that "misguided government policies are projected to result in one of the worst crop harvests in Zimbabwean history."

Mr. Bush continued: "While Robert Mugabe makes political statements in Rome, his people continue to face empty markets at home. The United States currently feeds more than 1 million Zimbabweans and spent more than $170 million on food assistance in Zimbabwe last year. We will continue these efforts to prevent government-induced starvation in Zimbabwe."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement describing Mr. Mugabe’s Rome visit as "unfortunate." British International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said he would shun President Mugabe during the summit.

From Perth, Australia, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called it "obscene" that the man "who has presided over the starvation of his people" would be present in Rome.

Mr. Mugabe used a previous such summit in 2005 to rail against then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. president George Bush, calling the two leaders “international terrorists” and comparing them to Adolf Hitler.

Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders said Mr. Mugabe was "personally responsible for the absurdly high food prices and grinding poverty in Zimbabwe." His ministry said however that Dutch delegates would take part in the conference.

An Italian left-wing politician vowed to stage a sit-in protest Tuesday against Mr. Mugabe and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Zimbabwean political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya said Mr. Mugabe’s record on food security and human rights should have disqualified him.

But political analyst Brilliant Mhlanga, a doctoral candidate at the University of Westminister's communication and media research institute, said the other leaders in Rome must seize the opportunity to confront Mr. Mugabe over his policies.

In Zimbabwe, meanwhile, the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo as saying the country will fall short of its production target for winter wheat, currently being harvested. He told the newspaper that farmers planted about 9,000 hectares of winter wheat in this season, just 13% of the government’s target of 70,000 hectares and just about half last year’s planting.

Gumbo blamed this on shortages of fertilizer and fuel. Zimbabwe used to produce 400,000 tonnes of wheat annually, but output collapsed after the chaotic process of land reform was launched in 2000, evicting most white commercial farmers.

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