WASHINGTON, US – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hailed Robert Mugabe’s resignation as president of Zimbabwe on Tuesday as a “historic moment” for the country, calling the leadership change overdue.
“We congratulate all Zimbabweans who raised their voices and stated peacefully and clearly that the time for change was overdue,” Tillerson said in a statement.
“Zimbabwe has an extraordinary opportunity to set itself on a new path,” he added.
Mugabe announced earlier Tuesday that he would step down from his role after leading Zimbabwe for 37 years. The longtime leader faced impeachment proceedings in Zimbabwe’s Parliament.
The Zimbabwe leader had initially refused the request of his own party to resign over the weekend. The party warned it would begin impeachment proceedings if he did not step down by Monday.
Members of the political party ZANU-PF moved to oust Mugabe on Sunday, appointing former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as their new leader.
The move came after Mugabe caused an uproar earlier this month when he fired Mnangagwa and indicated that he would instead transfer power to his wife, Grace Mugabe.
Zimbabwe’s military leadership later put Mugabe under house arrest.
In his statement Tuesday, Tillerson urged Zimbabwe’s leaders to take steps toward establishing “free and fair elections.”
“Whatever short-term arrangements the government may establish, the path forward must lead to free and fair elections. The people of Zimbabwe must choose their own leaders,” Tillerson said.
“We urge Zimbabwe’s leaders to implement much-needed political and economic reforms for a more stable and promising future for the Zimbabwean people. We will continue to support the people of Zimbabwe as these reforms move forward,” he continued, while calling “on all parties to exercise restraint and respect constitutional and civilian order.”