The Zimbabwe crisis has provoked the African Union into breaking with its earlier hands-off policy and into calling for respect for human rights.
AU commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare "recalls the need for the scrupulous respect for human rights and democratic principles in Zimbabwe," the pan-African body said in a statement. This followed an earlier acknowledgment in London by the AU chairman, Ghana's President John Kufuor, that Zimbabwe was "embarrassing" Africa.
The AU statement said Konare "urges all concerned parties to commence a sincere and constructive dialogue in order to resolve the problems facing Zimbabwe."
It added that Konare had followed recent developments in Zimbabwe with great concern.
Earlier attempts over a number of years by the AU's own human rights commission to get the continental organisation to criticise the Zimbabwe regime have all been stalled. African heads of state have been unwilling to create a precedent of outside involvement on on issues of governance.
South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu on Friday spoke out against African leaders, saying they should be ashamed over the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile in Washington presidential hopeful Barack Obama made a statement to the Senate on Thursday this week condemning the Mugabe regime.