- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

PARIS (Agence France-Presse) Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, an international pariah for his increasingly authoritarian rule, yesterday ended a visit here for the Franco-African summit hailing the "tremendous hospitality" he found in France.
"We've had tremendous hospitality. We felt at home," he told Radio France Internationale (RFI), praising French President Jacques Chirac for inviting him despite a global outcry over Mr. Mugabe's poor human rights record.
"We leave with a very good impression of France," he added.
Mr. Mugabe, whose visit was met with a spate of protests, was able to attend the two-day summit only after Mr. Chirac obtained a waiver to a European Union travel ban on the Zimbabwean leader and 71 of his associates.
The French leader defended the invitation as a way to confront Mr. Mugabe face-to-face over human rights abuses and lawlessness in his famine-ridden southern African country.
"Chirac insisted that we attend, because some members of the EU didn't want Mugabe to attend," the Zimbabwean leader told RFI, speaking of himself in the third person.
"He put his foot down on principles," Mr. Mugabe added, saying the world needed more leaders of great stature such as Mr. Chirac.
"That is the kind of leader we regard as very important for this stage … in the international community," he noted.
A hero in his country's 1970s liberation war against British colonial rule, Mr. Mugabe who turned 79 yesterday cut a lonely figure at the summit, kept at arm's length by participants and vilified by democracy activists.
Mr. Chirac greeted him with a stiff handshake at the start of the summit, in contrast to the cheek-kissing greetings reserved for other heads of state many with dubious democratic credentials of their own.
"It has been an excellent summit, indeed," Mr. Mugabe told RFI, adding that he hoped Mr. Chirac would "continue to play his part in uniting the developing world, Africa in particular, and the developed world."
Commenting about other leaders in the European Union, the Zimbabwean leader said, "All I can say is that they should behave like France is behaving."
Mr. Mugabe's participation in the Paris summit drew strong criticism from Britain, the European Union and human rights activists.
British homosexual and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell filed a complaint with the French courts seeking a warrant for Mr. Mugabe's arrest for purported rights abuses. But it was dismissed yesterday.
The European Union on Tuesday renewed sanctions against Mr. Mugabe, his wife, Grace, and 70 of his associates, imposed last year because of violence and rights abuses in the months leading to Mr. Mugabe's re-election.
But Mr. Mugabe and his 38-year-old spouse were all smiles on the steps of the Elysee presidential palace on Thursday, posing for photographers as they arrived hand-in-hand for the official dinner of the summit.
The United States, which has imposed similar sanctions on Mr. Mugabe, described his visit to France as "regrettable" and called for European unity in enforcing travel sanctions against members of his government.
Britain's tabloid press pulled no punches in slamming the Mugabe visit. The Sun branded the French president as "le Worm" on Thursday under the headline "Slimy Chirac rolls out red carpet for tyrant Mugabe."


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