Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has cancelled his participation in the World Culture Event 2016, due to begin in New Delhi on Friday 11 March. Mugabe had already made the 7,000km trip to India, however reports indicated that he had decided at the last minute not to attend the cultural festival due to security concerns.
The 92-year-old was due to be one of the guests of honour at the Art of Living's Festival, alongside other heads of state such as India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India's President Pranab Mukherjee. However, President Mukherjee also announced earlier this week that he would not be attending the World Cultural Festival.
Presidential spokesperson for President Mugabe told local media: "The cancellation follows communication from organisers of the Festival acknowledging substantial inadequacies in protocol and security arrangements around the event."
Zimbabwe's state broadcaster ZBC reported that the President is now due to return home "in a couple of days". Local media News24 also indicated that Mugabe had already faced "fierce criticism" from those in Zimbabwe for agreeing to attend "the little-known event".
Zimbabwe's President has backed out of the event amid increasing controversy over the World Culture Festival 2016. Organisers of the event have come under heavy fire from environmentalists in India, who have criticised them for hosting their event on the fragile ecosystem of the Yamuna River floodplains. Thousands of people also signed a petition urging Prime Minister Modi to rethink the location of the Festival.
On 9 March, two days before the beginning of the festival, India's National Green Tribunal (NGT) fined the organisers for the event while the Delhi High Court said that the event would be an "ecological disaster", the Times of India reported. Despite the findings that the event was damaging the ecosystem, the NGT is allowing the event to continue as planned, saying that petitioners waited till too late to file their complaint.