Monday, May 31st 2004 - 21:00 UTC

Latam/EU summit ends in diplomatic spat

European Union, Latin American and Caribbean leaders for multilateralism and UN reform, as their summit in Guadalajara ended at the weekend.

In bilateral trade talks, all sides agreed that progress had been made towards resuming the Doha trade round.

The EU and the Mercosur bloc - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - said they expected to make to a full free trade agreement in October, while Mexico announced that it would join Mercosur as an associate member in July.

Vicente Fox, Mexico's president said the arrangement with Mercosur would allow more linked investment in aerospace, biotechnology and satellites. However, Mexican officials made clear that the new association was primarily about working together on political issues. At this stage Mercosur and Mexico do not have a free trade agreement.

The EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, also held meetings with the Andean Alliance countries - Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela - and with Central America over possible "sub-regional accords".

The hope is that such accords - which EU officials said would be more ambitious than the free trade deals the US had negotiated in the region - will help create the conditions to put the current Doha trade round back on course.

Leaders also agreed to make sharp criticisms of the US in the communiqué. On the UN, the group was "committed to the reform and revitalisation of the United Nations, including the General Assembly and the Security Council".

They also firmly condemned "inhumane and degrading treatment of persons, including prisoners of war, wherever they occur. We express our abhorrence at recent evidence of the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraqi prisons. Such abuse is contrary to international law, including the Geneva Conventions."

However, Cuba refused to sign, citing the failure to mention the US by name, and to include specific language condemning the Helms-Burton law, which penalises US companies that trade with the US. Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, described the EU as "cowardly" and "hypocritical," while Felipe Perez Roque, the Cuban foreign minister, criticised "flagrant omissions" and "ambiguous language".

Bill Rammell, the UK foreign office minister, said: "It's pure political theatre. We are not supporting the American blockade, and we were prepared to make that abundantly clear in the communiqué, but they wanted to drive a wedge."

Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said the EU did not want to isolate Cuba, but attacked Havana for a "wave of repression, jailing more than 70 dissidents under appalling conditions."

A group of about 5,000 protesters battled with police for more than an hour on Friday evening, hurling lamp-posts and using blow-torches against the police riot shields.

Tear gas was used to disperse the crowd, who retaliated with violence against shops in the city centre. Official reports indicated there were 98 arrests, with 18 wounded in the disturbances, which ended with several protesters lying in the streets bleeding from head wounds.

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