About a dozen Vigil supporters attended a House of Commons four-hour debate on Zimbabwe on Thursday. There were some well-informed speeches from both sides of the House. One question addressed by several speakers

was the possibility of Mugabe attending the EU / AU Summit in Lisbon in December. The speakers referred to a Sunday newspaper report that the Prime Minister had said he would refuse to attend the summit if Mugabe was there. The government declined to confirm this report, saying that invitations had not yet been sent out. The former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, demanded an assurance that the United Kingdom would object to Mugabe attending and demand an EU vote on the matter. It should make it clear right away that the UK would not attend the Summit if Mugabe took part. “If the AU will not champion the people of Zimbabwe, the EU must.” Sir Malcolm said there had been no AU / EU Summit for seven years because of the Zimbabwe issue and, if necessary, this situation could continue for a few more years. It would be Africa’s loss.

During the debate President Mbeki came in for strong criticism for what was seen as his years of inaction over Zimbabwe. The Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Zimbabwe, Kate Hoey, said Zimbabwe’s neighbours were turning a blind eye to the humanitarian disaster if they were not actually cheerleaders. She and several other MPs supported the possible suspension of government to government aid to Southern African countries supporting Mugabe (along the lines of our current petition: “A PETITION TO EUROPEAN UNION GOVERNMENTS. We record our dismay at the failure of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help the desperate people of Zimbabwe at their time of trial. We urge the UK government, and the European Union in general, to suspend government to government aid to all 14 SADC countries until they abide by their joint commitment to uphold human rights in the region”).

MPs welcomed a recent American move to ban children of Zanu-PF bigwigs from studying or visiting the United States and urged that Britain and the European Union should do the same. As one MP said “It is essential that Zanu-PF start to feel personally the cost of their actions”. The MPs said that the Zimbabwe Central Bank Governor, Gideon Gono, should be added to the list of people refused entry to the European Union. The government said he would not be welcome if he tried to visit the UK.

There was strong support during the debate for the decision of the Australian Prime Minister to order a cricket boycott of Zimbabwe. The general message was that African leaders were acting shamefully in not facing up to the Zimbabwe problem and that pressure must be stepped up to oust Mugabe. But while some MPs urged a deal to allow for Mugabe’s departure others insisted that he face trial before an international court.

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