Mugabe cancels Swiss visit

2011-10-26 12:45

Harare – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has cancelled a trip to Switzerland, where he was to have addressed an international conference, after visas were denied to members of his entourage, a foreign ministry official said in a report published today.

The unnamed official was quoted in the daily Herald newspaper as saying there had been “a highly regrettable decision” by the Swiss government to refuse visas to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, the head of the secret police, Happyton Bongyongwe, the foreign and transport ministers, his official spokesman and a police official.

The denial of visas was “a clear violation” of Zimbabwe’s right to determine the composition of its own delegation, he said. Zimbabwe had lodged a protest with the United Nations and the Swiss government.

The Swiss embassy in Harare refused to comment, referring questions on visas to the Foreign Ministry in Berne.

Mugabe and about 200 members of his circle have been banned since 2001 from travelling to most Western countries, including Switzerland, under targeted sanctions imposed for severe human rights abuses.

However, he has the right to enter the countries from which he has been blacklisted if the purpose of his visit is a meeting of the UN or one of its organs. Mugabe was due to have addressed a summit of the International Telecommunication Union, a UN body, on Monday.

Mugabe and 62 members of his delegation were granted visas, according to the official, but had cancelled the trip after being told of the visa obstacle for the six.

Mugabe usually travels to UN meetings with one of the largest delegations of any nation. Critics say that the size of the delegations is used to circumvent sanctions, particularly by his wife, who is nicknamed “the first shopper”.

Last week, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the country could not afford to pay for the official groups, adding that foreign trips by Mugabe and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai had cost $50 million in September alone.

Official sources said by far the bulk of the spending was by Mugabe’s contingents.

The dispute coincided with rumours that the 87-year-old president’s health had suddenly worsened. Reports that he had flown to Singapore for the eighth time this year for treatment could not be confirmed. 

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