UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States accused Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Thursday of sinking to a "new low" by comparing the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens to that of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
"(Mugabe) cynically chose to compare the best of us with the worst of us, a ridiculous and abhorrent comparison that we reject in the strongest terms," said Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
"Ambassador Stevens represented the finest of America and spent his life connecting people, not dividing them. Even for President Mugabe, this is a new low," Pelton added.
Stevens and three other Americans were killed on September 11 in what the United States has called a "terrorist" attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, an eastern Libyan city that was the hub for the Libyan rebel movement that toppled Gaddafi last year with the assistance of NATO air strikes.
Mugabe opened his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday night by comparing the death of Stevens to that of Gaddafi, killed by Libyan rebels a year ago.
"The death of Gaddafi must be seen in the same tragic manner as the death of Chris Stevens. We condemn both of them," Mugabe said.
"As we in spirit join the United States in condemning that death, shall the United States also join us in condemning that barbaric death of the head of state of Libya - Gaddafi? It was a loss, a great loss, to Africa, a tragic loss to Africa," Mugabe added.
Mugabe, a long-standing critic of the West, is himself widely criticized for turning what was once one of Africa's strongest economies into a basket case and has been accused of hanging on to power through vote-rigging.
"President Mugabe had a chance yesterday to share with the international community his plans for reversing the downward spiral his rule has inflicted on the economy and people of Zimbabwe over the last three decades," Pelton added.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Will Dunham)