UK backs Us call that Mugabe must quit

LONDON - Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe will have to step down if any power-sharing government deal is to succeed, Britain's Africa minister said yesterday, echoing comments from Washington.

Mugabe, pictured, and Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed on September 15 to form a power-sharing government, but the deal has become deadlocked as the parties fight over control of key ministries.

"Power-sharing isn't dead but Mugabe has become an absolute impossible obstacle to achieving it," Mark Malloch Brown told BBC radio. "He is so distrusted by all sides."

Referring to a call on Sunday by US assistant secretary of state Jendayi Frazer for Mugabe to step down to clear a path for the deal to go ahead, Brown added: "The Americans are absolutely right - he is going to have to step aside."

The deadlock between Mugabe and Tsvangirai has held up any chance of ending the spiralling crisis in Zimbabwe, where a spreading cholera epidemic has killed more than 1100 people and food and fuel are in short supply.

Brown described Zimbabwe as being in the "final death throes" adding that such scenarios often seemed "terribly slow and grim and unnecessary".

He said he doubted Mugabe would go willingly, and that offering him immunity from prosecution could be difficult.

"In this era of the International Criminal Court, it is very hard for any particular country to offer that guarantee."

Meanwhile, Australia wants South Africa to pull the plug on Zimbabwe's electricity supply and plunge the country into darkness.

According to the Australian Onlinenewspaper, the former Liberal party leader and prime minister Malcom Fraser said yesterday the situation was now so dire that sanctions should be increased and the electricity cut off.

"It's my understanding that South Africa has it within its capacity to turn off electricity supplies to Zimbabwe," Fraser was quoted as saying on ABC radio.

"Short of war, all measures to bring pressure to bear on Zimbabwe or Mugabe ought to be entertained."

Fraser said turning off the lights wouldn't be as bad as war.

"A direct military intervention would have a greater impact on the population," he said. - Sapa and Reuters