We seek all the support we can get on cholera – Ndlovu

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe still requires assistance to deal with the spread of cholera, its information minister said on Friday, a day after President Robert Mugabe announced his government had stopped the outbreak.

"We need all the support we can get from peace-loving nations. We already have the support of the World Health Organisation (WHO)," the minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, told reporters in Harare.Mugabe, under growing Western pressure to step down as Zimbabwe’s economy and health system collapse, had said on Thursday that "we have arrested cholera." The United Nations said however that the death toll, now nearly 800, was rising.

Ndlovu accused media organisations of misrepresenting Mugabe’s comments, and presidential spokesman George Charamba said they had been taken out of context.

"Only under two weeks ago, the Zimbabwe government … declared a state of emergency on the cholera outbreak and appealed for international assistance," Charamba said.

"The head of that same government cannot conceivably suggest there is no cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe."

DEATH TOLL RISING

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday the death toll from cholera had risen to 792, with 16,700 cases.

"I don’t think that the cholera outbreak is under control as of now," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said in Geneva.

"It’s clearly in an ascendant trend since November 20th. We are not commenting on President Mugabe’s assertion because it’s not the place to discuss politics now. Our only goal is to work with the ministry of health and partners to help treat the sick and prevent further spread," she said.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for the past 28 years, has accused Western countries of trying to use the cholera outbreak to force him out of power. "Now that there is no cholera there is no case for war," he said in Thursday’s remarks.

Western leaders and some within Africa have called on the 84-year old leader to step down amid a political crisis compounded by an economic meltdown and the cholera epidemic.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Mugabe on Friday to agree to a rapid deal on a new government, so as to "leave his legacy in a positive way."

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai reached a power-sharing deal brokered by regional mediator Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former president, in September. But they are deadlocked over how to implement it.

Ban recalled having personally pressed Mugabe in "very tense" private talks two weeks ago in Doha to accept the September 15 agreement.

Asked whether he backed calls for Mugabe to leave office, Ban told a Geneva news conference: "I have urged him as hard as I could to honour his commitment as a political leader and as president of Zimbabwe to leave his legacy in a positive way."

"As we are coming to the close of this year, he should really look for the future of his country and his own people who have been suffering too much and too long from this political turmoil now coupled with very serious humanitarian tragedies. I am really appealing and urging him again."

Britain on Friday questioned the wisdom of a U.S. proposal to seal Zimbabwe’s borders in order to hasten the collapse of Mugabe’s government, saying such a move could have far worse consequences.

Mark Malloch Brown, Britain’s secretary of state for Africa, said neighbouring countries shutting their borders would deny Zimbabweans an escape route and exacerbate the health and food crises already afflicting a desperate population.

A senior U.S. official said on Thursday that if neighbouring countries sealed their borders, and prevented the flow of remittances from Zimbabwean exiles, it would bring the country to its knees "in a week."