Ending speculation as to whether leaders at the European-African summit that opened Saturday in Lisbon would confront President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe over his human rights record and the economic meltown there, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the gathering that the crisis "damages the image of the new Africa."
Diplomatically raking Mr. Mugabe over the coals, Ms. Merkel said in a keynote speech to 80 leaders from the European Union and African Union that, "Nothing can justify the intimidation of those holding different views and hindering freedom of the press," a reference to Harare's repression of opponents and strictures on the media.
Ms. Merkel told her audience, which included Mr. Mugabe, that “the current situation in Zimbabwe damages the image of the new Africa.”
Conspicuously absent was British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who boycotted the summit over Mr. Mugabe's participation. Mr. Brown lost the diplomatic battle with those EU leaders including Ms. Merkel who argued for inviting President Mugabe to that the Zimbabwe crisis could be taken up on the sidelines of the trade and aid summit.
Other EU member nations who declined to send heads of state or government were the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania and Cyprus.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates told the leaders that the Zimbabwe crisis had blocked the summit for years and that accelerating the development of Africa required a dialogue which is “frank and open, with no taboos or sacred cows."
Washington Times Africa Bureau Chief Geoff Hill told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that although the crisis in the Southern African nation was not on the summit agenda, it was clearly an issue of concern to some of those participating, and to protesters who gathered outside the summit venue.
Advocacy groups represented there included the Zimbabwe Vigil, which has organized protests every Saturday in London for the past five years.
Zimbabwe Vigil Coordinator Rose Benton said her organization wanted to express its displeasure that European officials allowed Mr. Mugabe to join the summmit.
For a broader perspective, reporter Carole Gombakomba spoke with political analyst and University of Zimbabwe Professor John Makumbe and National Coordinator Jenni Williams of the Bulawayo-based advocacy group Women of Zimbabwe Arise.
Makumbe said European leaders could use the summit to confront Mr. Mugabe.
Listeners of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe were invited to comment as well. Decent, a Zimbabwean living in Johannesburg, said Mr. Mugabe's trip to Lisbon wasted precious resources that should have gone to relieving the destitute, while Tawanda, in Alberta, Canada, said Mr. Mugabe should be charged with crimes against humanity.