Rice says well past time for Mugabe to go

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks during a news conference in Islamabad before leaving Pakistan December 4, 2008. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday said it was well past time for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to leave and nations in the region must take the lead on pressuring him to quit.

“It’s well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave,” said Rice, who was in Copenhagen as part of a European tour to say farewell to other top diplomats before the Bush administration’s term ends on January 20, 2009.

“The fact is there was a sham election, there has been a sham process of power-sharing talks and now we are seeing not only political and economic total devastation ... but a humanitarian toll of the cholera epidemic,” Rice told a news conference.

Nobel laureate and South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu said late Thursday Mugabe must step down or be removed by force and that the Zimbabwean leader faced indictment for war crimes in the Hague unless he quit.

“If this is not evidence to the international community that it’s time to stand up for what is right I don’t know what will be. And frankly the nations of the region have to lead it,” Rice said.

She added the United States and Europe could not lift the burden alone and that without help from countries in Southern Africa it would be very difficult to find a just resolution in Zimbabwe.

“Many African states have spoken out about the need for change in Zimbabwe and many others have been silent,” Rice said.

Zimbabwe has declared a national emergency and appealed for international help as it battles a cholera outbreak that has killed at least 565 people.

Reporting by Sue Pleming; Editing by Louise Ireland