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Africans back France on Iraq

Mugabe's presence at the summit has been controversial.
Mugabe's presence at the summit has been controversial.

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PARIS, France -- African leaders have backed France's position on Iraq and urged the United States not to use force without first obtaining the blessing of the United Nations.

The leaders, in Paris for the 22nd Franco-African summit, released a statement on Thursday saying they supported continued inspections and reiterated Africa's confidence in chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.

Three members of the U.N. Security Council -- Guinea, Angola and Cameroon -- were among the 52 countries whose representatives signed the declaration, which was released by the office of President Jacques Chirac of France.

Chirac has been a major opponent of military action against Iraq and opposes the Bush administration's threat to oust Saddam Hussein by force even if the United Nations does not approve.

The declaration described the disarmament of Iraq as "the shared goal of the international community" and said "the only legitimate framework for handling this issue is the United Nations."

The resolution also called on Iraq to "immediately, actively and fully cooperate" inspections and to disarm itself of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has insisted it has no such weapons.

Chirac opened the African summit on Thursday with sharp words for leaders who face accusations of crimes including genocide and torture saying: "Those who perpetrate [violence] now risk punishment at the hands of the International Criminal Court."

The summit has been overshadowed by the presence of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the target of international sanctions and vigorous human rights protests, with activists calling for his arrest on torture charges. (Full Story)

Mugabe is banned from travelling to the European Union, but France was given an exemption after arguing that the meeting would be a good platform to engage him on human rights issues and the country's political crisis.

On Thursday, British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who has been trying to get Mugabe into court for years over human rights abuses, was arrested but later released by French police.

Tatchell registered an official complaint urging the Paris general prosecutor on Wednesday to arrest Mugabe under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which France has signed.

London-based rights' group Amnesty International urged French and African leaders to pressure Mugabe over Zimbabwe's human rights' record.

Chirac -- who has invoked his own presidential immunity to avert French judicial inquiries into corruption -- hopes to consolidate a role for Paris as a key player across the continent, not just in its former African empire.

High on the agenda is the ongoing violence in the Ivory Coast -- where France has dispatched own troops.

Chirac renewed his calls for Ivory Coast leaders to stick to a French-brokered peace deal that would give several key government posts to rebels holding at least half the country.

The deal has triggered a wave of anti-French protests in Ivory Coast, and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo chose not to attend the meeting.

Somalia, which has no recognised government, was not invited to attend the summit.


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