U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for African nations to sever ties with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and demand his removal.
Speaking from a lectern where Gadhafi has often addressed African assemblies, the secretary of state acknowledged the Libyan leader’s influence in the 53-member body. But she urged African leaders to stand up for the organization’s democratic ideals and take the lead in demanding his ouster.
"I know it is true over many years, Gadhafi played a major role in providing financial support for many African nations and institutions, including the African Union, but it has become clearer by the day he has lost his legitimacy to rule, and we are long past time when he can or should remain in power," said Clinton.
In the first-ever address by a U.S. secretary of state to the African Union, Clinton called for the continent’s leaders to isolate Gadhafi diplomatically.
"I urge all African states to call for a genuine cease-fire and to call for Gadhafi to step aside," she said. "I also urge you to suspend the operations of Gadhafi’s embassies in your countries, to expel pro-Gadhafi diplomats, and to increase contact and support for the [rebel] Transitional National Council."
Speaking to an A.U. plenary hall packed with diplomats and dignitaries, Clinton hailed the so-called "Arab Spring" bringing about democratic reforms in parts of North Africa and the Middle East. She praised people in countries long ruled by dictators who are now demanding new leadership, often, as she put it, “at the top of their lungs."
"In places where jobs are scarce and a tiny elite prospers while most of the population struggles, people, especially young people, are channeling their frustration into social, economic and political change," said Clinton. "Their message is clear to us all, the status quo is broken, the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable, it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go."
In what was billed as a major policy address, Clinton received applause for acknowledging the plight of African women, calling them “the hardest-working women in the world."
"So often what they do is not included in the formal economy, it is not measured in the GDP, and yet if all the women in Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town decided they would stop working for a week, the economies of Africa would collapse," she said.
Secretary Clinton was due to visit a number of projects designed to empower women during the final day of her Africa tour. But her visit was abruptly cut short due to concern about an ash cloud caused by a volcanic eruption in neighboring Eritrea.
She flew back to Washington late Monday.