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Page last updated at 21:28 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

UK caused cholera, says Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe has said the West was plotting to use cholera to invade

The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe which has left hundreds dead was caused by the UK, an ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has said.

Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu described the outbreak as a "genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British".

On Thursday, Mr Mugabe said the spread of cholera had been halted.

But aid workers warned that the situation was worsening and the outbreak could last for months.

In his comments to media in Harare, Mr Ndlovu likened the appearance of cholera in Zimbabwe to a "serious biological chemical weapon" used by the British.

The Zimbabwean minister for information blames Britain for the cholera outbreak

He described it as "a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe".

Mr Mugabe has already accused Western powers of plotting to use cholera as an excuse to invade and overthrow him.

Earlier on Friday a senior South African Anglican bishop said that Mr Mugabe should be seen as a "21st Century Hitler".

Bishop of Pretoria Joe Seoka called on churches to pray for his removal, the South African Press Association reports.

His comments came as the US ambassador to Zimbabwe warned that the country was turning into a "failed state".

We need to commit ourselves to assist the refugees from Zimbabwe... remembering that the one we call our Lord and Saviour was a refugee in Egypt, fleeing the Mugabe of that period, King Herod
Bishop Joe Seoka

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the outbreak has not been contained and the death toll has increased to some 792 people, the AFP news agency reports.

The WHO has warned that the total number of cases could reach 60,000 unless the epidemic was stopped.

US ambassador James McGee blamed the outbreak on Zimbabwe's political crisis and the failed economic policies of its government.

He told reporters in Washington that hospitals in Harare remained closed, there was no rubbish collection and people were drinking from sewers.

President Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been deadlocked in power-sharing negotiations for several months.

"The situation is truly grim. One man and his cronies - Robert Mugabe - are holding this country hostage," Mr McGee said, AP news agency reports.

Bishop Seoka said that Mr Mugabe was a "person seemingly without conscience or remorse, and a murderer".

 Zimbabwean family bury their relative Betty Bvute who died of cholera near Harare on 8 December 2008
Cholera has spread because of Zimbabwe's failing health system

"I believe it is now an opportune moment for all the church leaders to follow the retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, to call on God to cause the removal Mugabe from the office of the President of Zimbabwe," he said, calling for the prayers to be held next Tuesday.

"The church in South Africa has done this before with the apartheid regime and there is no doubt that God will hear our prayers even today."

Several African and Western leaders have recently said it was time for Mr Mugabe to step down.

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga said African countries should force him from power.

But the African Union has rejected such calls, saying a solution to Zimbabwe's problems must come from the power-sharing talks.

Bishop Seoka asked South Africans to show patience to Zimbabweans who have fled their homeland.

An estimated three million Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, and thousands cross over the border illegally every day.

More recently, hundreds have sought medical treatment because Zimbabwe's health service and water supply infrastructure have virtually collapsed.

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