The Prince of Wales shook hands with the Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe at the Pope’s funeral today.
Charles, who was seated one place away from the president, was “caught by surprise” when Mugabe leaned over to greet him, Clarence House said.
President Mugabe side-stepped a European Union travel ban to attend the service in Rome.
His presence was condemned as an insult when it emerged yesterday with one Euro MP describing it as a “flagrant breach of the EU travel ban”.
President Mugabe has just won an election in which criticism of Britain and Prime Minister Tony Blair was a main plank of his party’s campaign.
The validity of the election has also been questioned by observers.
Last year British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was condemned after he shook hands with the president at a United Nations summit in New York.
2 FUNERAL Pope Mugabe
A Clarence House spokesman said: ``The Prince of Wales was caught by surprise and not in a position to avoid shaking Mr Mugabe's hand.
“The Prince finds the current Zimbabwean regime abhorrent.
“He has supported the Zimbabwe Defence and Aid Fund which works with those being oppressed by the regime.
“The Prince also recently met Pius Ncube, the Archbishop of Bulawayo, an outspoken critic of the government.”
It was thought Charles shook Mr Mugabe’s hand as part of the service.