The leaders of Zimbabwe and Venezuela on Monday denounced U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as "unholy men," and blamed the United States and other developed countries for world hunger, pollution and war.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez turned their speeches at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization into tirades, with the African leader describing Blair and Bush as "two unholy men of our millennium."
Chavez accused what he called "the North American empire" of threatening "all life on the planet," while Mugabe compared Bush and Blair, for their alliance in the war in Iraq, to Germany's Adolf Hitler and Italy's Benito Mussolini, who were World War II allies.
U.S. representatives at the U.N. organization's gathering in Rome said Mugabe and Chavez made "a mockery" of the occasion with their scathing remarks.
The gathering, a day after the United Nations marked World Food Day, commemorated the organization's 60th anniversary.
The verbal attacks by Chavez and Mugabe drew cheers and applause from many of the delegates. The organization has 188 members.
"These leaders chose to politicize an event that was meant to be about feeding the hungry people of the world," Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to U.N. food agencies, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
"Mugabe, especially, should not have been invited," Hall said. "He would be the last person, I think, an organization should invite to talk about hunger."
A defiant Mugabe defended the land reforms blamed for ruining the country's agriculture-based economy and contributing to widespread famine there, the AP reports.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe's political elite that include travel restrictions. But an agreement between Italy and the U.N. agency allows all delegations to go to the organization's headquarters, FAO spokesman Nick Parsons said.
Despite the restrictions, Mugabe has been allowed to do some travel in the countries that imposed the sanctions, including U.N. General Assembly sessions in New York.
The seizure of white-owned commercial farms over the past five years and prolonged drought have crippled Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy. About 4 million Zimbabweans are in urgent need of food aid in what was once a regional breadbasket, according to U.N. estimates.
Recent constitutional changes in Zimbabwe will prevent white owners of confiscated farms from recovering their land and could be used to strip critics of their passports and the right to travel.
The United States has imposed new sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which still remains under construction