EU bans travel for 11 more Mugabe officials

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The European Union extended a travel ban to 11 more Zimbabwean officials yesterday and joined calls for President Robert Mugabe to step down after 28 years in power.

Spreading cholera, food shortages and economic collapse have brought new demands for Mugabe's resignation from his old foes in the West. He blames Western sanctions for Zimbabwe's hardship. Critics blame his increasingly authoritarian rule.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said EU foreign ministers added 11 more names to a list of over 160 Zimbabweans - including Mugabe - banned from visiting the bloc, a move meant to increase pressure on Zimbabwe's government.

"I think the moment has arrived to put all the pressure for Mugabe to step down," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said before the ministers' meeting in Brussels.

Echoing similar calls from the United States and former colonial power Britain, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said "President Mugabe must go. Zimbabwe has suffered enough."

EU ministers said in a statement that the people added to the blacklist were "actively engaged in violence or human rights infringements." The list was confidential until published in the EU's official journal, diplomats said.

One said those added included five members of a Joint Operations Command, which comprises security service chiefs who the opposition say were instrumental in organising a violent campaign that returned Mugabe to power.

However, ministers also agreed to take one person off the bloc's black list, diplomats said.

One named him as Simba Makoni, former finance minister who left the ruling ZANU-PF party earlier this year and contested the presidential election against Mugabe in March.

Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told Reuters the EU had no right to call Mugabe to step down, saying he was constitutionally elected.

"No foreign leader, regardless of how powerful they are, has the right to call on him to step down on their whim," he said.

The United States said it would continue to push for the international community to act on Zimbabwe, but said the country's neighbours held the most influence.

"We made extensive efforts in the Security Council to get the international system to act, and we are going to continue those efforts, but quite frankly some of the states in the region have to step up. They need to use their leverage," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

South African ruling ANC party leader Jacob Zuma urged swift action to end Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by political deadlock between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai over implementing a power-sharing deal.

The impact of Zimbabwe's crisis is felt keenly in South Africa, where cholera victims seeking treatment have joined millions of immigrants who have fled in search of jobs.

"Some swift action is clearly needed," Zuma said in Namibia.

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

Basic foodstuffs are running out and the cholera epidemic has killed at least 575 people. Prices of goods are doubling every 24 hours, and the 100 million Zimbabwean dollar a week limit for bank withdrawals buys only three loaves of bread in the once relatively prosperous country.