South American-Arab Summit postponed until late April

The South American-Arab Summit (ASPA), which was to be held in Peru February 12-16, has been rescheduled for late April, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde.

The decision to delay the conference is due to the political crisis in Egypt and Tunisia, state news agency Andina reported the minister as saying.

“We are working with the League of Arab States to choose a date between April 15-30 to hold the summit,” Garcia Belaunde said. “When they requested to suspend it due to the social problems in some countries in the region, they were clear that they did not want to suspend the summit without having another date.”

Many political leaders in the Middle East had said they would not be able to leave the region for the original summit date even though they are interested in participating, Garcia Belaunde said.

“I hope by then that the situation in certain countries in the region will return to normal and we can hold this meeting.”

Former Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was recently forced to step down and flee the country after protests erupted due to allegations of widespread corruption.

Meanwhile in Egypt, the Middle East’s most populous country, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has faced massive protests calling for his resignation. The street demonstrations are the largest challenge to the head of state’s hold on power since he took office in 1981.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch has estimated that some 300 people have been killed in Egypt since the political crisis erupted in January, international media reported.

“We are immensely concerned about the climate of violence in Egypt,” said Garcia Belaunde. “It worries us that they still haven’t found a path to solve the popular demands.”

Authorities had previously said that the ASPA summit would include delegations from 34 countries, as well as all of South America’s presidents, except for Uruguay.

Topics to be discussed at the summit include conservation of the environment, promotion of tourism and the affirmation for friendship and peace.

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