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Europe

EU's Solana Ramps up Pressure on Mugabe to Quit

International pressure was ratcheted up Monday, Dec. 8, for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to step aside amid several crises in the African state.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

Mugabe has held power in Zimbabwe for nearly 30 years

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana weighed into the debate, saying Mugabe's departure was long overdue and necessary for the strife-torn country to move ahead.

Solana called for further international pressure on the 84-year-old, who has maintained an iron grip on Zimbabwe as president since 1987 and before that as prime minister from 1980.

"The moment has arrived to put on the pressure for Mugabe to step down and give the opportunity once again to the people of Zimbabwe to get their life together and begin to move the country forward," Solana told reporters as he arrived for talks with EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

"The important thing is the political pressure now," he said.

The US has also called for Mugabe to step aside, as have several African nations including Kenya and Botswana.

Ongoing crises

Mugabe's government stands accused of violence against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, which is in a failing power-sharing deal with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

President Robert Mugabe, left, shakes the hand of Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition party

Power-sharing is not working

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Saturday that world powers must join together to tell Mugabe that "enough is enough" amid a worsening cholera outbreak that the UN says has so far claimed 575 lives and exposed a deficient health system.

Zimbabwe is also straining under an economic meltdown that has seen inflation rise to 231 million percent, and a food crisis in which basic staples are often unobtainable.

Regime sanctions

EU ministers are set to further toughen sanctions against Mugabe and members of his regime at Monday's Brussels meeting.

A draft text drawn up by EU ambassadors stressed "deep concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, particularly as a result of the cholera epidemic and the continuing violence against supporters of the MDC party."

The new sanctions will bar travel to the EU and freeze the European assets of 10 members of the Zimbabwean regime, in addition to the 168 officials, including Mugabe and his wife Grace, who are already on the sanctions list.

Black diamonds

Also on Monday, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen urged the EU to investigate ways to put a stop to Zimbabwe's illegal diamond trade.

"People are being tortured, a human rights activist has disappeared without any trace and the government blocks aid for people suffering from hunger and cholera," he said.

Mugabe's government is allegedly making enormous profits from the illegal diamond trade.

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