ROME (AFP) — The presence of Zimbabwean and Iranian presidents Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a UN food summit here sparked international condemnation and protests in Italy on Monday.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith called Mugabe's presence in Rome "obscene". Britain also criticised Mugabe's rare foray out of Zimbabwe where he is fighting for his political future in an election runoff.
"This is the person who has presided over the starvation of his people. This is the person who has used food aid in a politically motivated way," Smith said.
"So Robert Mugabe turning up to a conference dealing with food security or food issues is, in my view, frankly obscene," added the Australian minister, who is also to attend the Food and Agriculture Organization summit.
In London, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesman said: "We think it's particularly unfortunate that (Mugabe) has decided to attend this meeting given what he has done in relation to contributing to difficulties on food supply in Zimbabwe."
There were also protests in Italy by activists, leftist politicians and Jewish groups against Mugabe and Ahmadinejad.
"It is in no way legitimate for the people of Zimbabwe to be represented by a head of state who has been disowned by the international community and who is unwanted by his own people," Sergio Marelli, Italian host of a forum on food sovereignty coinciding with the summit, told AFP.