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UN defends Zimbabwe as world tourism summit host

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 29, 2013 at 9:32 pm •  Published: August 29, 2013

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The largest global tourism summit organized by the United Nations ended Thursday with officials defending Zimbabwe's role as co-host after years of abuses of human and democratic rights in the southern African nation.

The 180-member United Nations World Tourism Organization said it re-elected Taleb Rifai of Jordan for a second four-year term as its secretary general at the end of the summit in the Zambian town of Livingstone, across the border from Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls resort.

Rifai earlier brushed aside criticism the six-day meeting gave legitimacy to President Robert Mugabe's government in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections.

"We are not here to deliberate on grand issues, we can do that anywhere else in the world," he said. "It was the correct and right decision. The excitement, optimism and hope this meeting has created made everything worthwhile."

About 1,200 delegates discussed tourism development programs for mostly poor, developing nations, accompanied by carnival parades in the two towns overlooking the Victoria Falls, a wide curtain of falling water and rising spray whose local name roughly translates as "the smoke that thunders."

Mugabe, speaking at a banquet Wednesday, urged delegates to promote Zimbabwe as a safe tourist destination to counter Western allegations of rights violations in the country he has led since 1980, the state broadcaster reported. Mugabe was also quoted by state radio as saying U.S. State Department advisories on safety risks in Zimbabwe were erroneous.

"We are not terrorists," the president said, calling on Western critics to visit Victoria Falls to "have their minds repaired."

Australia, Canada, the U.S. and former colonial power Britain are not members of the UNWTO. Western governments are generally skeptical of the value of the biennial meeting attended mostly by nations with a poor record in tourism, conservation and political stability.

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