On the eve of the European Union-African Union summit opening Saturday in Lisbon, the crisis in Zimbabwe and what the U.S. government has termed genocide in Sudan's Darfur region held center stage as protesters demanded high-level action.
The summit participation of President Robert Mugabe, a heated diplomatic issue for many months, has given way to discussion as to how the summit should address the crisis in Zimbabwe now that he is there without sidetracking the development and trade issues that are intended to be the main business of the gathering.
Mr. Mugabe arrived in Lisbon on Thursday amid tight security. Meanwhile, in Britain the government’s choice to send Baroness Amos to the summit while Prime Minister Gordon Brown boycotts it over President Mugabe’s attendance stirred controversy with another former development secretary, Claire Short, calling Amos a “pseudo-minister” and charging that Brown sent her just because she is black.
Foreign Secretary David Milliband took issue with that statement, saying Amos would be a “very good advocate” for Britain and for stronger UK-African relationships.
Protesters gathered at the summit venue on the Lisbon seafront demanding action on Zimbabwe and Darfur, while a plane hired by Zimbabwean activists in South Africa flew past the summit venue with a banner saying: "Mugabe you'd be much more welcome in the Hague," a reference to the International Court of Justice.
Zimbabwean journalist and author Geoff Hill, who is based in South Africa, described the protest activity and examined the prospects for substantive action on Zimbabwe by the summit in an interview with Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.
Elsewhere, officials of the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Morgan Tsvangirai briefed diplomats in Lisbon about the so-called SADC process, the crisis resolution talks mediated by South African president Thabo Mbeki on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, the regional political body.
International Affairs Secretary Eliphas Mukonoweshuro of the Tsvangirai grouping of the opposition said the delegation wanted to counter the notion which has taken hold among international observers that there has been significant progress in the talks.
Representatives of Zimbabwean nongovernmental organizations said they hoped the international community would put pressure on Mr. Mugabe to implement reforms.
Reporter Carole Gombakomba spoke with political analyst and University of Zimbabwe Professor John Makumbe and Women of Zimbabwe Arise National Coordinator Jenni Williams, both of whom were in Lisbon. Makumbe said that while Zimbabwe is not on the agenda, leaders can engage and confront Mr. Mugabe over the crisis.