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Mugabe Declares Cholera Outbreak Over as Pressure Increases

In an apparent bid to end calls for international intervention against his regime, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has claimed that the cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 800 people since August is over.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe

Mugabe is under increasing international pressure to step down as president of Zimbabwe

"Britain wants military intervention because of cholera," the 84-year-old autocrat told a gathering of party supporters at the funeral of a senior member of his Zanu-PF party. "Our doctors are being assisted by the WHO (World Health Organization) to bring it under control.

"Now there is no cholera, there is no cause for war."

Mugabe was reacting to a slew of calls from Western and a couple of African leaders in recent days for him to step down over his country's economic and humanitarian crises.

Water supply, sanitation and state health and education services have ground to a halt as Zimbabwe's economy caves in under eight years of hyperinflation.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown last weekend called for international action to remove Mugabe. The United States, France, Germany and the European Union have also called for the leader of 28 years to bow out.

Mugabe's remarks on cholera, which were carried on national television, surprised health experts given that, only a week ago, the government declared the epidemic a "national disaster."

The World Health Organization contradicted Mugabe's assessment of the situation, saying the death toll in the outbreak had risen to 788 and the number of suspected cases to 16,403.

The outbreak has spilled over into neighboring countries. South Africa has declared the Vhembe region around Musina on the border with Zimbabwe a disaster area.

At least eight people, six Zimbabweans and two South Africans, have died of cholera in Musina so far and close to 700 been infected. The area is crammed with Zimbabwean cross-border traders and illegal immigrants trying to escape their country.

At least four people have also died in Mozambique along that country's border with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's state-controlled Herald newspaper said Thursday that Zambia and Tanzania were also affected.

But Mugabe told mourners at a funeral that cholera "came from other countries."

Mugabe's supporters blame others for cholera outbreak

One of the placards displayed at the funeral said, "Brown's cholera." A government minister earlier this week accused the West of "contaminating" Zimbabwe with cholera.

A Zimbabwean woman prepares to fetch water from a burst water pipe in Harare

A Zimbabwean minister accused the West of contaminating the country with cholera

Mugabe also denounced Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) with whom he signed a power-sharing agreement in September, for travelling around the world, "looking for support."

"We don't want that kind of prostitution," he said.

Meanwhile, the British government minister responsible for Africa, Mark Malloch Brown, held talks with South Africa's Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Thursday about the situation in Zimbabwe, which water and health ministers from the region are due to discuss Friday.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional political grouping, of which South Africa has currently the chair, is trying to push Zanu-PF and the MDC into a unity deal but the parties disagree on how positions of power should be allocated.

Religious leaders in southern Africa have expressed frustration at Zimbabweans' worsening plight.

The All African Conference of Churches, which represents 120 million Christians in Africa, in a statement urged all churches on the continent and around the world to engage in a special Africa Day of Prayer and Fasting for Justice in Zimbabwe on January 25.

The AACC also echoed a recent call by South African Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu for Mugabe to be pressured into relinquishing his stranglehold on power.

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