Mugabe in Rome for John Paul II beatification: Report

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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe landed in Rome on Saturday to attend the beatification of late pope John Paul II at the Vatican, Italy's ANSA news agency reported.

Mugabe, 87, who obtained a special exemption from a European Union travel ban to make the journey, arrived in Rome's main airport on a special Air Zimbabwe flight with his wife Grace and a large delegation, the report said.

Mugabe was welcomed by Zimbabwe's ambassadors to Italy and to the Holy See amid strict airport security after landing just after 0600 GMT.

The Zimbabwean leader, a former liberation hero who has been widely condemned for human rights abuses, last visited Rome under United Nations auspices for two UN food agency conferences in 2008 and 2009.

Mugabe, who was raised Catholic and attended a Jesuit school, also attended the Polish pontiff's funeral in 2005 — a visit that sparked controversy because Britain's Prince Charles shook hands with him.

Italy's foreign ministry said it had requested an exemption for Mugabe from the EU ban against him, which dates back to 2002.

The Vatican, which has special diplomatic accords with Italy, is a sovereign state that is not part of the European Union.

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