ROME – President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe defied a European Union travel ban and arrived Thursday in Rome to join world leaders attending Pope John Paul II's funeral.
Mugabe, 81, landed at midmorning at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport (search), and an Associated Press Television News crew said there were no signs that authorities had made any attempt to arrest him.
The European Union (search) imposed travel sanctions in 2002 after its observers were barred from disputed presidential elections. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF (search) party last week announced it had gained a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections also marred by fraud allegations.
Zimbabwe Broadcasting said Mugabe was met by Zimbabwe's ambassador to Italy and that he planned to meet with members of the Italian business community. It also said that after Friday's funeral, Mugabe would make courtesy calls on various officials. It did not identify them.
Italy has a pact with the Vatican in which it does not interfere with people transiting the country to see the pope. The Vatican does not have its own airport, so anyone coming for the funeral — or other church business — had no choice but to fly into Rome.
Vatican City, an independent city-state, follows most EU codes but is not a full member.
The trip was denounced by one of Mugabe's fiercest human rights critics, Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube (search) of Bulawayo.
"That man will use any opportunity to fly to Europe to promote himself. The man is shameless," Ncube said.
However, Ncube noted that the Italian government was obliged by its treaties with the Vatican to admit Mugabe for the pope's funeral. He accused Mugabe of exploiting the Vatican during an especially busy time.
Senior church figures would be unable to communicate to him their concern at the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, the archbishop said.
"The secretary of state might be rather too busy right now to talk to him, but when someone in the family has died, you appreciate all the sympathy you can get from all people, even murderers, crooks and thieves like Mugabe," Ncube said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Bulawayo.
Ncube's comments, defying draconian new laws in Zimbabwe that impose a five-year jail sentence for undermining the dignity or authority of the head of state, marked a new intensity in the war of words between the two men. Last week, Mugabe accused the prelate of being "a half-wit."
On Monday, Mugabe took the floor uninvited at a Mass for the pope in Harare, attacking Western powers for meddling in Zimbabwe's internal affairs.
"It is sad to note in today's world there are people who want to dominate other people contrary to the late pope's teaching," he said.
Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980.