/ 5 December 2008

‘Well past time’ for Mugabe to step down

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday called on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down, saying power-sharing talks with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were a ”sham process”.

”It is well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave,” said Rice during a brief visit to Copenhagen. ”I think that is now obvious.

”If this is not evident for the international community, that it is time to stand up for what is right, I don’t know what would be.”

Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal in September that has yet to be implemented amid fierce disagreements over who should control key ministries.

Rice said Southern African states needed to maintain pressure on Mugabe (84) to find a political solution to the deadlock. Otherwise, she said, ”it would be very difficult” to make any progress.

”Southern African states should be the most responsible,” she said.

A cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe that has claimed hundreds of lives could spur neighbouring countries to push for a much-needed political solution in the country, Rice said.

”I sincerely hope that this is going to stir the states of the region to a stronger reaction.”

The US announced Thursday it would provide $600 000 to help fight the outbreak in Zimbabwe, after Mugabe’s government declared a national emergency and pleaded for international help.

Rice’s comments came amid increasing international criticism of Mugabe.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denounced Mugabe as leader of a ”failed state”.

”Mugabe’s failed state is no longer willing or capable of protecting its people. Thousands are stricken with cholera, and must be helped urgently,” Brown said in a statement as his government announced extra aid to the country.

And Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told the BBC on Thursday that it was time for Mugabe to go.

”It’s time for African governments to take decisive action to push him out of power,” Odinga said.

”Power-sharing is dead in Zimbabwe and will not work with a dictator who does not really believe in power-sharing,” he said.

In reply, Zimbabwe’s government on Friday slammed Rice’s call for Mugabe to step down, saying it was not for Washington to ”dictate” to the African nation.

”Zimbabwe is a sovereign state and cannot be dictated to by some secretary of state of another country no matter how big,” Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said

”Zimbabweans are the ones who can tell Mugabe to leave office through a constitutional means,” he said.

Political limbo
Zimbabwe has been in political limbo since elections in March when the opposition wrested control of Parliament from Mugabe’s party and Tsvangirai pushed Mugabe into second place in a presidential poll.

Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off election in June, however, ensuring victory for Mugabe, after dozens of opposition supporters were killed in attacks blamed on Mugabe supporters.

Zimbabwean state media reported on Friday that Mugabe plans to call early elections if the power-sharing agreement fails to work within the next two years.

”We agreed to give them [MDC] 13 ministries while we share the Ministry of Home Affairs, but if the arrangement fails to work in the next one-and-a-half to two years, then we would go for elections,” Mugabe was quoted as saying by the Herald newspaper.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers are set to beef up sanctions against Zimbabwe amid worries over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and political stalemate, according to a draft text.

The EU will stress ”its deep concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the cholera epidemic and the continuing violence against supporters of the MDC”, said the draft statement prepared for the ministers to adopt in Brussels on Monday.

The ministers will also call for ”a fair and viable power-sharing agreement without delay”, according to the text seen by AFP. — AFP