Heads of state from across Africa begun arriving Tuesday in Libya for the 13th summit of the African Union, due to focus on boosting the continent's fledging economy and discussing ways to fight the spread of deserts.
Guests from outside Africa are expected to grab much of the limelight, with visits scheduled by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and a last-minute call by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad _ his first major public appearance abroad since his disputed re-election earlier this month.
The three-day heads of state AU summit was due to open Wednesday in the coastal city of Sirte, East of the capital, Tripoli.
Beyond the official agenda centered on agriculture, the heads of state, hosted by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, were expected to discuss needs of easing some of Africa's many looming crises.
Piracy and civil war in Somalia, unrest in Zimbabwe, and protracted bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region are considered among the most pressing continental issues to solve.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's office has confirmed he was due to attend.
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir was in Sirte on Tuesday and was expected to press fellow African heads of state to reject interference from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which has issued an arrest warrant against him for crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Somalia's foreign minister, Abdullahi Sheikh Ismail, has asked the AU assembly in Sirte to consider sending more peacekeeping troops to his war-ridden nation.
His call could find an answer with Gadhafi, the AU's founding figure and Africa's longest serving head of state. The Libyan leader, propped by vast oil reserves and a history of intervening throughout the continent, has begun calling for a "United States of Africa" and has listed the creation of an African defense council as one of the important items for the AU summit.