HARARE, ZIMBABWE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should acknowledge the nation's "insatiable desire'' for a leadership change and resign immediately, the recently fired vice president and likely successor to the 93-year-old leader said Tuesday.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was dismissed earlier this month, also said in a statement that he will not return to Zimbabwe until "satisfied of my personal security,'' alleging that there had been plans to kill him.
"The people of Zimbabwe have spoken with one voice and it is my appeal to President Mugabe that he should take heed of this clarion call and resign forthwith so that the country can move forward and preserve his legacy,'' Mnangagwa said.
He confirmed that Mugabe has invited him to return "for a discussion'' on the recent events. But "given the events that followed my dismissal I cannot trust my life in President Mugabe's hands.''
The ruling ZANU-PF party is demanding that Mugabe resign and wants Mnangagwa, a former longtime ally of the president, to replace him.
The ruling party was poised to begin impeachment proceedings against Mugabe on Tuesday as Parliament resumed, and it instructed government ministers to boycott a Cabinet meeting Mugabe called for Tuesday morning at State House, the president's official residence.
Ruling party chief whip Lovemore Matuke said ministers were told to instead attend a meeting at party headquarters to work on the impeachment.
Mnangagwa's statement said he was aware of the impeachment proceedings and "I will not stand in the way of the people and my party.''
While there is a widespread consensus that the world's oldest head of state should step down after nearly four decades in power, the increasingly isolated Mugabe has refused. The country has known no other leader since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
The military was widely hailed as a savior after effectively stripping Mugabe of his authority last week, but it is under scrutiny after its generals flanked him during a televised address Sunday night in which he asserted that he remained the "commander in chief'' and referred to "our well-cherished constitutional order.''
Zimbabwe's association of liberation war veterans, which is close to the military, said the generals are in an awkward position because their formal role requires them to protect Mugabe from civilian protesters such as the tens of thousands who poured into Harare's streets over the weekend.