EU joins calls for Zimbabwe's Mugabe to resign

HARARE (Reuters) – The European Union joined calls on Monday for President Robert Mugabe to step down after 28 years ruling Zimbabwe, where spreading cholera and food shortages have worsened the humanitarian crisis.

Mugabe’s government has come under criticism from a growing number of African leaders and statesmen as well as his old foes in the West. He blames Western sanctions for Zimbabwe’s collapse. Critics blame his increasingly authoritarian rule.

"I think the moment has arrived to put all the pressure for Mugabe to step down," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana before a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels. The United States and Britain have made similar calls.

The EU meeting will consider whether to add up to 11 more names to a list of over 160 Zimbabwean officials — including Mugabe — who are banned from travelling to Europe, but Solana argued against any further sanctions on the ruined country.

South African officials were in Zimbabwe to assess the scale of the crisis, responding to an unprecedented call for international help from Mugabe’s government.

Basic foodstuffs are running out and a cholera epidemic has killed at least 575 people, infected thousands and spread to South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia. The South African delegation was due to report back late on Monday.

Prices are doubling every 24 hours and the 100 million Zimbabwean dollar a day limit for bank withdrawals is only enough to buy three loaves of bread in the once relatively prosperous country.

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Hopes of rescuing Zimbabwe have dimmed while deadlock continues between Mugabe and opposition rival Morgan Tsvangirai over forming a power-sharing government in line with a deal in September that followed widely condemned elections.

The health system is incapable of coping with the cholera epidemic. The water system has collapsed, forcing people to drink from contaminated wells and streams.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said international intervention was needed because of the health emergency.

"Cholera is killing," he said. "We need international intervention for this matter, not a military one, but a strong intervention to stop this cholera epidemic, which could allow for other things," he said without elaborating.

Zimbabwe has accused former colonial power Britain of using the crisis and the cholera epidemic to rally Western support for an invasion of Zimbabwe.

"There is a crying need for change in Zimbabwe," Britain’s foreign minister, David Miliband, said in Brussels.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga urged the African Union on Sunday to hold an emergency summit to formulate a resolution to send troops into Zimbabwe to deal with the crisis.

Botswanan Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate, have also called for Mugabe’s removal.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement issued by the Elders, a group of prominent figures that includes ex-U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Tutu that there was "bitter disappointment in the current leadership."