Mugabe to join climate talks under U.N. loophole

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe arrived in Denmark on Tuesday to attend U.N. climate talks, despite Western sanctions on his travel and public disapproval from his Danish hosts.

People walk past a globe with an interactive display at the townhall square in central Copenhagen December 15, 2009. Copenhagen is the host city for the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009, which lasts from December 7 until December 18. REUTERS/Cristian Charisius

Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said that Mugabe was allowed to attend the Copenhagen climate conference because of rules that permit him to attend U.N. meetings, over-riding European Union and United States travel bans.

“That is the spirit of the U.N. -- that the world needs a place where we can meet with those we basically don’t like. And I guess that is how you can characterize the person you’re asking about,” Rasmussen said when questioned about Mugabe.

Mugabe’s arrival prompted local media to ask whether Danish leaders would shake the 85-year-old African leader’s hand and whether, as elder statesman, Mugabe will be seated next to Denmark’s Queen Margrethe at a dinner on Thursday for heads of state and government attending the climate conference.

Mugabe, in power since 1980, is one of more than 110 world leaders attending the final two days of the conference that is trying to reach a global climate agreement.

Upon arrival, Mugabe said he expected from the Copenhagen conference “what everybody else hopes to get -- an agreement.”

He denied feeling isolated. “I am a member of the world population. I’m only one dot in the population. I am a member of the world. Why should I feel isolated?”

U.S. President Barack Obama, who has called Mugabe a “dictator,” is to attend the Copenhagen conference on Friday.

Mugabe is a pariah in the West, blamed by critics for plunging his southern African country into poverty through authoritarian rule, economic mismanagement and corruption.

He has blamed the West for ruining his country with sanctions, which he says are in retaliation for the seizing of white-owned farms on behalf of landless blacks.

He rules Zimbabwe under a 2008 power-sharing agreement with his political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Reporting by John Acher and Henriette Jacobsen; Editing by Dominic Evans