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PRINCE Charles is 'caught by surprise' as Mugabe leans over to greet
Last updated: 04/09/2005 09:45:22 Last updated: 04/09/2005 04:26:22
THE Prince of Wales shook hands with Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe at the Pope’s funeral on Friday drawing sharp criticism from European MPs who called the gesture "stupid".
Prince Charles, who was seated one place away from the president, was "caught by surprise" when Mr Mugabe leaned over to greet him, Clarence House said.
Mr Mugabe, a Catholic, side-stepped a European Union travel ban to attend the service at the Vatican, which does not have its own airport but has a pact with Italy to ensure visitors access to the city state.
The handshake apparently came during a part of the service known as "the Peace", when mourners are asked to turn to those beside them and shake their hands.
A Clarence House spokesman said: "The Prince of Wales was caught by surprise and not in a position to avoid shaking Mr Mugabe’s hand. The Prince finds the current Zimbabwean regime abhorrent.
"He has supported the Zimbabwe Defence and Aid Fund which works with those being oppressed by the regime. "The Prince also recently met Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, an outspoken critic of the government."
Under a long-standing agreement, Italy is obliged to allow visitors to the Vatican to cross Italian territory because the Papal State has no airport.
Questions were being asked as to why Charles was sitting so close to Mr Mugabe.
The Foreign Office said the seating arrangements had been devised by the Vatican which “is its own state and makes its own arrangements on issues of this sort”.
There was speculation that the two were so near because of the alphabetical proximity of United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.
It was thought Charles shook the president’s hand as part of the service.
But the royal greeting was condemned as “stupid” and “not very sensible” by politicians.
MEP Richard Corbett said although EU sanctions could not prevent Mr Mugabe attending the Pope’s funeral, there was no need to go so far as to acknowledge his presence at the ceremony.
“Prince Charles should have refused to shake his hand,” he said.
“In fact, this was a golden opportunity to deliberately and very visibly refuse to shake hands with this man.
“To fail to do so was, frankly, stupid.”
Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock said: “People like Prince Charles must have people advising them how to deal with these matters, because it’s not the first time Mugabe has been canny about his behaviour in such circumstances.
“There must be a limit to the allowances we make for this man – and shaking his hand is not a very sensible thing to do.”
Last year, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was similarly condemned when he shook hands with Mr Mugabe at a UN summit in New York.
At the time he claimed he hadn’t realised it was President Mugabe because it was too dark to see.
The validity of the election has also been questioned by observers.
Mr Corbett said a public snub would have been all the more valuable as a statement of feelings about the regime, given the impossibility of applying the EU ban.
“The ban is being upheld in all EU countries, but in this case the Italian government has a long-standing agreement with the Vatican, which is a sovereign state.
“That is why an opportunity not to shake his hand should have been taken.”
The legal agreement between Italy and the Vatican, known as the Concordat, dates from 1929.
It is not the first time Mr Mugabe has slipped through the net since sanctions were introduced by EU governments in February 2002.
A Mugabe delegation attended a UN food conference in Rome in June 2002 and Zimbabwe’s police chief attended an Interpol meeting in Lyon, France two months later.
In June 2003, Mr Mugabe went to an EU-Africa summit in Paris, during which his wife and her entourage made several high-profile expeditions to the shops along the Champs Elysee.
In each case the EU sanctions could not be applied because the events involved were held under the auspices of wider international bodies.
Sanctions against the African country include freezing Zimbabwean assets in European banks and the travel ban throughout Europe.
The Prince was not the only dignitary to find himself shaking hands with the unexpected during the papal funeral, which attracted presidents, royalty and prime ministers from over 80 countries. President Katsav of Israel shook hands with the presidents of both Syria and Iran, Israel's arch-enemies.
Speaking about the seating arrangements for the funeral a Foreign Office spokesman said: "The Vatican is its own state and makes its own arrangements on issues of this sort."