LISBON (Reuters) - A defiant Robert Mugabe told European leaders on Sunday he will not be lectured on how to rule Zimbabwe, hitting back at the German chancellor and other EU leaders who accused him of ignoring human rights.
Mugabe raised his fist in defiance, smiling widely, when asked by Reuters what message he wanted to send Europe on the second and final day of an EU-Africa summit.
“On human rights and good governance, Africa sets its own agenda, of its own free will,” Zimbabwe’s controversial president said, as quoted by two EU diplomats who listened to his speech to the first Europe-Africa summit in seven years.
The West and rights groups accuse Mugabe of wide-spread human rights violations and wrecking his country’s economy but he is viewed as an independence hero by many in Africa.
The Southern Africa Development Community has tried to mediate between Zimbabwe’s government and the opposition.
Britain’s Gordon Brown boycotted the meeting to protest Mugabe’s participation, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel challenged the summit on Saturday to confront human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, saying: “the situation of Zimbabwe is damaging the image of the new Africa.”
But Mugabe was quoted by EU diplomats as saying: “Does the German chancellor and the other pro-Gordon Brown people really believe they know better than SADC and the African Union, we have to fight this arrogance.”
Previous efforts to hold a summit between the world’s largest trading bloc and its poorest continent had failed because Britain and some other EU states refused to attend if Mugabe was invited, while African leaders said they would not come if he was barred.
Mugabe said the EU’s “arrogance”, not Zimbabwe, was to blame in delaying the summit.
“Those who talk of equality have sought to impose their own will on Africa and made trumped up charges on Zimbabwe,” Mugabe said.
“We know our responsibilities, we don’t need to be told about peace and security,” he added.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana reiterated these concerns on Sunday after Mugabe spoke.
“The EU is concerned about the degradation of the economic, humanitarian and political situation in Zimbabwe,” Solana told the European and African leaders. “The degradation to our mind is a result of a crisis of governance,” he said.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference at the end of the summit, referring to Mugabe, that he did not understand why those who fought for the freedom of their country denied freedom to their own people.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has accused the government of Mugabe, 83 and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, of rigging past elections and called for democratic reforms before the 2008 poll.
The MDC has alleged that authorities have stepped up a campaign of repression as a means of stifling the opposition in the run-up to the election.
Editing by Mary Gabriel