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EU-African leaders to seal pact   09/12/2007 - 14:14:18
Ghanaian President John Kufuor, Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva and  African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare
Despite the smiles, sharp divisions have emerged between the blocs
European and African leaders will mark the end of a two-day summit in Lisbon by signing a pact promoting free trade and democracy.

The summit has been seen as an attempt by Europe to regain lost ground in Africa and combat growing Chinese influence on the continent.

But Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told the leaders that Europe had almost lost the race for influence in Africa.

Controversy over Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe's presence has also dominated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was tasked with voicing the EU's concerns about Zimbabwe, said Mr Mugabe's policies had "damaged Africa".

"The situation in Zimbabwe concerns us all, in Europe as in Africa," she said. "We don't have the right to look away when human rights are trampled on."

Previous efforts to hold EU-African summits have collapsed over the question of Mr Mugabe's attendance.

Although he is banned from the EU, African leaders demanded he be invited to attend. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has boycotted the meeting in protest.

Mr Mugabe, who is still regarded by many African leaders as the heroic liberator of Zimbabwe, has not yet responded publicly to the remarks.

Ambitious agenda

The EU-Africa Strategic Partnership document, to be signed later, will outline joint policy aims in areas such as security, development and good governance.

Today is very clear that Europe is close to losing the battle of competition in Africa
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Lisbon says the pact is a hugely ambitious agenda and implementing the proposals will be difficult.

President Wade criticised European leaders for trying to pressure African countries into signing new trade deals, adding that China's approach was winning more friends.

"Today is very clear that Europe is close to losing the battle of competition in Africa," he said.

Our correspondent says that while China has massively increased its investments in Africa it does not tend to comment on issues such as democracy and human rights.

He adds that Europe and Africa are currently in open disagreement over an EU plan for import tax reductions, despite the pact's focus on free trade.

'Shake off colonialism'

Earlier, Portuguese PM Jose Socrates described the gathering - the first for seven years - as a "summit of equals".

Picking pineapple crop in Ghana

"We are equal in our human dignity... but also equal in terms of political responsibility," he said in an opening speech.

Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who is also president of the African Union, said it was time to shake off the colonial past.

The EU is attempting to draw up a number of new Economic Partnership Agreements with former African colonies and regional blocs. The World Trade Organization wants the current preferential trade deals to expire at the end of the year.

African representatives are concerned that the new agreements are unbalanced and that their countries will not be able to compete with subsidised European goods.

Some states, though, in East Africa, have already signed up to the new deals.

Original Location: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7134941.stm

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