Mugabe 'hugged and kissed' at summit

Langkawi, Malaysia - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, internationally criticised for driving his country to economic ruin, on Monday received a cordial welcome at an anti-poverty summit in this Malaysian resort, delegates said.

While he has proved elusive to the pack of journalists and photographers staking out the Langkawi International Dialogue, Mugabe was said to be actively participating in round-table discussions with other African and Southeast Asian leaders, they said.

Delegates warmly welcomed Mugabe to the three-day forum, which has stirred some controversy about the African leader's presence.

"Other people had expressed unhappiness with Mugabe, but not at this conference," said a Malaysian delegate who did not want to be named.

"Mugabe is actually participating in all the events," the delegate said, adding that the latter was "hugged and kissed" by some participants.

The dialogue, launched in 1995 by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, is aimed at fostering closer relations between the region and the poor but resource-rich African countries.

This year's theme focused on poverty alleviation, with Malaysia sharing its experiences in transforming from a struggling economy in the 1970s to a prosperous one at present.

Mugabe is blamed for driving his nation into economic ruin, with inflation running at more than 3 700 percent.

The octogenarian president established an independent Zimbabwe in 1979 but has since come to be regarded by many as a tyrannical dictator whose rule has been marked by intimidation, violence, fraud, and robbery.

He and Mahathir, who retired in 2003 after more than two decades in power, share a love of anti-Western rhetoric.

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