Pressure mounts on Mugabe to quit

European leaders on Monday piled pressure on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to quit, saying he has ignored his people’s suffering from a cholera epidemic and devastating food shortages.

Calls from the European Union, France and Britain for the 84-year-old to go added to the growing chorus against Mugabe, after Washington as well as African countries like Botswana and Kenya said last week that he should step down.

“President Mugabe must go,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris, adding that the time for negotiations was over.

“There comes a time when a dictator does not want to hear, does not want to understand, and so my understanding is that heads of states and governments must end discussions.

“It is time to say to Mr Mugabe ‘you have taken your people hostage. The people of Zimbabwe have the right to freedom, to security and to respect’.”

Zimbabwe is sinking deeper into crisis, battling a cholera epidemic that has claimed nearly 600 lives while facing a devastating food shortage that the United Nations says will leave half the population without enough to eat.

Its once-dynamic economy has withered for nearly a decade, leaving hospitals without drugs, equipment or even staff to treat the cholera outbreak.

The European Union on Monday increased its sanctions against the Zimbabwe regime, adding more names to the list of people banned from entering Europe, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

“It’s done,” said Kouchner, in response to a question at a press conference in Brussels on the margins of a meeting with his EU counterparts.

The 11 new names, described by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband as “middle-ranking members of the regime”, were added to the 168 already on the persona non grata list, including President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.

As well as being barred from entering the EU, those on the list also have their European assets frozen.

At the start of the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana called for greater political pressure to push Mugabe out.

“The moment has arrived to put on the pressure for Mugabe to step down and give the opportunity once again to the people of Zimbabwe to get their life together and begin to move the country forward,” Solana told reporters.

Miliband, also arriving for the talks, decried “the murderous effects of the Mugabe regime”.

Miliband, whose country is the former colonial power in Zimbabwe, described Mugabe’s government as “a rogue regime wreaking havoc in the region as well as death and destruction for its own people”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week said it was “well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave”, while former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said at the weekend that the current government was incapable of ending Zimbabwe’s crisis.

Zimbabwe’s economy has contracted for nearly a decade and now reels under the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231-million percent.

Daily suffering
The cholera epidemic has compounded the daily suffering of Zimbabweans, creeping into every corner of life, with the health minister on Monday warning that even family gatherings could pose a risk.

“People should watch out for weddings, funerals and other social gatherings that are agents of the spread of cholera,” Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said in the state-run Herald newspaper.

“We should avoid shaking hands and uphold high standards of hygiene,” he said.

Maintaining hygiene is nearly impossible with only intermittent water supplies and a creaking sanitation system that leaves sewage flowing in the streets while garbage piles up on the roadside.

Zimbabwe has been in political limbo since elections in March when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) wrested control of Parliament from Mugabe’s party and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai pushed the veteran leader into second place in a presidential poll.

Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off election in June, ensuring victory for Mugabe, after scores of his MDC supporters were killed in attacks which the Zanu-PF party were accused of orchestrating.

A power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, signed in Harare on September 15, is yet to be implemented amid wrangling over the distribution of key ministries.—Sapa-AFP

Meanwhile, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma on Monday urged Zimbabwe’s political leaders to quickly break the stalemate on a unity government, saying mediation could still solve the country’s crisis.

Despite growing international calls for Mugabe to step down, Zuma said he still supported the mediation effort led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

“We need some swift action to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe,” Zuma said at the opening of talks in Windhoek with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba.

“We fully support Mbeki’s mediation efforts and we urge the Zimbabwe leadership to act and ... pave the way for a unity government,” Zuma added.—Sapa-AFP

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