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Looking Isolated, Britain's Brown Digs In On Mugabe Summit Exclusion

Britain hardened its line Monday in a diplomatic row over whether or not Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should take part in the European-African Union Summit set for December 8-9 in Lisbon. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that if Mr. Mugabe should attend the summit, no British official will participate.

Brown declared recently that he would not attend if Mr. Mugabe came to Lisbon, but it was generally believed that Britain would send a delegation of some kind.

But Mr. Brown clarified the point, telling reporters that "no senior government minister will attend." He added that his government "does not condone” what he charged were rights abuses in Zimbabwe, the “poverty and deprivation” of the Zimbabwean people and what he described as Mr. Mugabe’s “unacceptable behavior as president.”

Mr. Brown’s position contrasted sharply with that taken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a state visit to South Africa last week. She said African countries should send the representative of their choice, implicitly opening the door to Mr. Mugabe.

President Mugabe has stated that he intends to represent Zimbabwe in December. He said Britain has no right to dictate to Zimbabwe or other African nations.

Portugal, meanwhile, has insisted that it won’t discriminate against any country. A source in Lisbon’s foreign affairs ministry said that with so many countries expected to attend, some would not make it. The official said summit plans would not have gotten this far if all European Union countries, including Britain, had not agreed to it.

Portugal has not yet sent out summit invitations, but African leaders have threatened a boycott of the North-South gathering if President Mugabe is excluded.

A planned summit in 2003 had to be scuttled due to deep divisions among European and African leaders over the same vexed question of Mr. Mugabe's attendance.

Editor Patrick Smith of the London-based Africa Confidential newsletter told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Mr. Brown in laying down an ultimatum had put himself on a slippery slope.

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