U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it is past time for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to step down. Her call comes amid an increasing economic and now humanitarian crisis in the southern African nation.
Speaking during a visit to Denmark on Friday, Secretary Rice said President Mugabe's departure is long overdue.
"It's well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave," she said. "I think that's now obvious."
Zimbabwe has been in political turmoil for most of this year, amid election violence, an increasing crackdown against opposition politicians and supporters, flawed elections, an economic meltdown and now an outbreak of cholera.
"The fact is that there was a sham election, then there has been a sham process of power-sharing talks and, now, we are seeing not only the political and economic toll that is being taken on the people of Zimbabwe, but the humanitarian dimension as this cholera epidemic has broken out," Rice said.
Zimbabwe has declared a national emergency and acknowledged that its collapsing health care system is unable to cope with the outbreak of the disease. According to the World Health Organization, the epidemic has thus far claimed nearly 600 lives, and is affecting neighboring countries, as desperate Zimbabweans seek to leave the country.
On Monday, the European Union is expected to ratchet up the pressure on the Mugabe government. A draft statement, expected to be adopted by EU foreign ministers, calls for tightening sanctions further, unless progress is made on a fair power-sharing agreement.
Nobel laureate South African archbishop Desmond Tutu went further than Secretary Rice, saying, if Mr. Mugabe does not go willingly, he should be forced out of office - if need be, by the threat of indictment at The Hague for human rights violations.
Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since the country's independence from Britain in 1980. Conditions in Zimbabwe deteriorated markedly this year, since the March elections in which the opposition gained control of parliament and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes for president, but not enough to avoid a run-off. Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round of balloting because of increasing attacks against the opposition, and Mr. Mugabe claimed victory. The two sides have been in power-sharing talks, but without a successful outcome thus far.