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EU, Africa open new chapter after no-holds-barred summit

LISBON: EU and African leaders pledged Sunday to create a new partnership of equals at a summit marked by rows over trade and Darfur and a vitriolic attack by Zimbabwe s Robert Mugabe on European arrogance. After two days of what hosts Portugal described as no-holds barred debate, leaders of the two continents put their …


LISBON: EU and African leaders pledged Sunday to create a new partnership of equals at a summit marked by rows over trade and Darfur and a vitriolic attack by Zimbabwe s Robert Mugabe on European arrogance.

After two days of what hosts Portugal described as no-holds barred debate, leaders of the two continents put their names to an Africa-EU Strategic Partnership agreement to take their relationship to a new, strategic level.

They vowed to move away from a traditional relationship and forge a real partnership characterized by equality and the pursuit of common objectives and which capitalizes on the lessons of the past.

In a post-summit address to his guests, Portugal s Prime Minister Jose Socrates said the often troubled history between the two continents had entered a new era at the first such summit in seven years.

What is important is that we met each other face-to-face, on an equal setting, in a new spirit, said Socrates.

I think I can say the idea that has been expressed most often is that this summit represents the turning of a page in history.

But despite the declaration on a shared vision for the future, the summit saw starkly different viewpoints emerge over issues such as human rights and immigration, with the shadow of colonialism preventing the display of any real warmth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused Mugabe on Saturday of harming the image of the new Africa with his human rights record.

Mugabe hit back on Sunday, charging British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who boycotted the summit over his presence, was behind the attacks on Zimbabwe.

Yesterday, we heard four countries – Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands – criticize Zimbabwe for lack of human rights for non-observance of the rule of law.., the Zimbabwean president said at a closed door session.

Does the German chancellor and the pro-Gordon gang of four of yesterday really believe that they have a better knowledge of Zimbabwe than the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union. And it is this arrogance that we are fighting against.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Beshir received a similar carpeting from a delegation of European leaders, including Portugal s Socrates and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who implored him to allow the rapid deployment of a UN-led peacekeeping force to stem the bloodshed in the western Darfur region.

Wary of China s growing push into Africa, the European Union has been keen to nail down new trade agreements before the expiration of existing deals at year s end.

But while the message from Europe was that no one would be pressured into agreement, African Union Commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare warned EU negotiators to avoid playing certain African regions off against each other.

Asked how the negotiations on the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) were going, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi replied to reporters: Not easy.

The African countries are more and more afraid to be in some way pushed down by sudden competition, so they are asking for guarantees.

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