Zimbabwe's parliament prepared to start impeachment proceedings against President Robert Mugabe Tuesday, as ousted vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who could be the country's next leader, told him to step down.
The statement by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was dismissed earlier this month, added to enormous pressure on Mugabe to quit after almost four decades in power, during which he evolved from a champion of the fight against white minority rule into a figure blamed for a collapsing economy, government dysfunction and human rights violations.
In the statement issued Tuesday morning, the former vice president said he refused to return to Zimbabwe until he was sure he would be safe, despite an invitation from Mugabe to discuss "the current political events in the nation".
"Zimbabweans", and said he would preside over a special congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party scheduled for next month.
The former vice president said in his statement he wanted to see "all people of Zimbabwe" come together to rebuild the nation.
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Mnangagwa said he was aware parliament meant to impeach Mugabe and he supported the move.
Impeachment proceedings to remove Robert Mugabe from power will begin later after a deadline for him to resign passed.
Mugabe on Tuesday faces another test of his rule, as Zimbabwe's parliament reconvenes after a two-week break with Zanu-PF expected to table a motion of impeachment.
The military was widely hailed as a saviour after effectively stripping Mugabe of his authority last week, but it is under scrutiny after its generals flanked him during a televised address Sunday night in which he asserted that he remained the "commander in chief" and referred to "our well-cherished constitutional order".
Mnangagwa said by stepping down, Mugabe would at least move "the country forward and preserve his legacy".
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They were just some of the tens of thousands of people who have protested in the streets since last Wednesday, calling for an end to Mugabe's time in power.
After Mnangagwa fled overseas, the army took over the country and placed Mugabe under house arrest - provoking amazement and delight among many Zimbabweans as his autocratic 37-year reign appeared close to an end.
The army promptly seized power and put the President under house arrest - but insisted it had not staged a coup. The prospect of a dynastic succession alarmed the military, which confined Mugabe to his home last week and targeted what it called "criminals" around him who allegedly were looting state resources - a reference to associates of the first lady.
Legal experts say impeachment could take weeks and be subject to court appeals.
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