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Shunned leaders attack west

June 3, 2008

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: June 3 2008

Shunned but tolerated in Rome, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on Tuesday took the podium at a UN food security summit to accuse the west of manipulating commodity markets and plotting their countries’ downfall. Mr Ahmadi-Nejad also used the occasion to tell reporters that George W. Bush was “eager for a war” with Iran but that the US president would end his term “grieving over the failure of his threats”.

Similarly, Mr Mugabe accused the UK of mobilising its allies to impose illegal economic sanctions, fund NGOs that “use food as a political weapon” and “thereby effect illegal regime change” in Zimbabwe.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has isolated himself in the west with his fierce anti-Israeli rhetoric. Mr Mugabe has been banned by the EU from Europe for six years for expelling election monitors, although he has been allowed to travel to UN conferences.

Theirs were the only names excluded from the list of heads of state and government invited to an official dinner on Tuesday night jointly hosted by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier, and Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general.

Italian and UN officials both said responsibility for drawing up the guest list lay with the other co-host.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, who was on his first trip to the EU, thanked the Italian people for their warmth and hospitality and said he regretted that his tight schedule did not permit him to stay longer. Most of his press conference was spent attacking the state of Israel, which he said would cease to exist even if Iran did not play a part, and the failure of US hegemonic designs.

The UK delegation was pointedly absent when Mr Mugabe addressed the summit, held by the Food and Agriculture Organisation at its Rome headquarters. The Dutch also said they would ignore him.

A US State Department spokesman criticised Mr Mugabe’s attendance. His ”misrule” served as ”an example of what not to do in terms of managing agricultural and food policy”, the official said. Australia said Mr Mugabe’s presence was “obscene”.

The speeches of the two outcasts garnered some polite applause and the three-day conference continued unruffled, focusing mainly on a stand-off over biofuels and debate over what is driving food prices.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said the western powers were manipulating commodities, including oil. “It is very clear that hidden and unhidden hands are at work to control the prices mendaciously to pursue their political and economic aims,” he said. At the same time the capitalist powers blocked Iran’s development of nuclear energy, he added.

The “big powers”, he said, had paid for “wars and occupations . . . and profligate consumptions and filling the pockets of global capitalism” by investing vast amounts of dollars without backing, thus leading to the currency’s devaluation.

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