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Mugabe and Ahmadinejad left out of UN summit dinner

By Silvia Aloisi, Source: Reuters
(updates with Israel ambassador, clarifies timing of dinner)
June 2, 2008

ROME, June 2 (Reuters) - The Italian and U.N. hosts of a U.N. crisis summit on rising food prices on Monday left the presidents of Zimbabwe and Iran off the guest list of a ceremonial dinner for the leaders attending the meeting.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is able to take part in the conference only because an EU travel ban on him does not apply to U.N. forums.

And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his first visit to Western Europe as Iranian president, made sure of a frosty welcome by offending Israel on the eve of his departure.

Neither was named on the list of guests for the official dinner being given on Tuesday by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the heads of state attending the June 3-5 summit, Italian media reported.

Western ministers said Mugabe was responsible for the food shortages faced by millions in Zimbabwe's shattered economy.

"We will not allow the millions of people who can no longer afford a normal meal to be held hostage by Mugabe," said Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders.

British International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said 4 million Zimbabweans had to rely on food aid because of Mugabe's policies.

"This is not a man with any credibility or any contribution to a discussion on international food," he said.

The leader of the former British colony arrived in Rome, home of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, late on Sunday, his first official trip abroad since March elections condemned by Western and opposition leaders as fraudulent.

Ahmadinejad said before setting off for Rome that Israel would soon disappear off the map, and the "satanic power" of the United States would be destroyed.

Israel's ambassador to Italy, Gideon Meir, said the remarks showed that inviting him to the summit had been "inappropriate".

Ahmadinejad's visit has already created a diplomatic headache for Italy and the Holy See after he was said to have requested a meeting with the pope and Berlusconi.

The Italian government ruled out a meeting, citing time constraints, and the pope's schedule for the week mentioned no audiences for any of the summit's heads of state.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer said he would not meet either of the men in Rome.

"We are glad they're here, we appreciate the opportunity for dialogue, but it is our position that we will not meet with them," Shafer said.

Britain's Alexander said he would not even shake hands with Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Inflation in Zimbabwe, once southern Africa's breadbasket, is 165,000 percent, unemployment stands at 80 percent and there are chronic shortages of basic necessities including food and fuel. About 3.5 million people have fled to escape poverty.

Mugabe blames Britain for the economic malaise, accusing it of trying to undermine him and reverse his redistribution of white-owned farms to black farmers.

At an FAO gathering in 2005, Mugabe called U.S. President George W. Bush and Britain's then-prime minister Tony Blair "international terrorists", comparing them to Adolf Hitler. (Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin in London, Phil Stewart in Rome, Emma Thomasson in Amsterdam; Editing by Kevin Liffey) 

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