Rice: 'Well Past Time' for Mugabe to Leave

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that it is "well past time" for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to leave office as evidenced by the nation's calamitous cholera epidemic and health care crisis.

Rice said the country experienced "a sham election," followed by a sham sharing of power. Speaking in the Danish capital Friday, she said the current outbreak of cholera in the country should be a sign to the international community that it is time to stand up to Mugabe.

"If this is not evidence to the international community to stand up for what is right, I don't know what would be. And frankly the nations of the region have to do it," she said. The nations in southern Africa have the most to lose and need to take the lead, she said.

Zimbabwe declared a national emergency over a cholera epidemic and the collapse of its health care system, and state media reported Thursday the government is seeking more international help to pay for food and drugs to combat the crisis.

"It's well past time for Robert Mugabe to leave, that's now obvious," she said. "There has been a sham election, there was a sham power-sharing. We are now seeing the humanitarian toll."

Rice said "we are seeing not only the political and economic toll that is being taken on the people of Zimbabwe but the toll in the humanitarian dimension as the cholera epidemic has broken out. It is time for the international nations to push Mr. Mugabe out."

She said the United States "will always do anything and everything it can to help innocent people who are suffering. We are not going to deny assistance to people who are in need because of Mugabe."

The failure of the southern African nation's health care system is one of the most devastating effects of the country's overall economic collapse.

Facing the highest inflation in the world, Zimbabweans are struggling just to eat and find clean drinking water. The United Nations says the number of suspected cholera cases in Zimbabwe since August has climbed above 12,600, with 570 deaths, because of a lack of water treatment and broken sewage pipes. Besides shortages of food and other basics, even cash is scarce.

Cholera is an infectious intestinal disease that is contracted by consuming contaminated food or water. Its symptoms include severe diarrhea.