3 Dec 2008

Zimbabwe crisis deepens as cholera spreads

10:27 pm on 3 December 2008

Zimbabwe riot police wielding batons charged protesting union members, doctors and nurses to disperse demonstrations on Wednesday as the country sank further into crisis.

Trade unions have called a day of protest over a deepening banking and cash shortage crisis while at least 100 doctors and nurses protested outside the health ministry in the capital Harare.

A cholera outbreak has killed nearly 500 people and infected almost 12,000 Zimbabweans, forcing hundreds to cross the border with South Africa to seek treatment.

Aid agency Save the Children said there is also an outbreak of anthrax, with 60 infected people at one Zimbabwe hospital. Spokeswoman Sara Jacobs says hunger means people are having to eat infected cattle.

The spread of cholera, normally a preventable and treatable disease, highlights the collapse in the once relatively prosperous African nation, where President Robert Mugabe and the opposition are squabbling over how to implement a power-sharing agreement.

Riot police armed with shields and batons broke up a group of about 20 demonstrators marching towards the central bank in Harare's central business district.

Across town, police also dispersed a group of about 100 health workers, including doctors and nurses, who had converged at the head offices of the health ministry.

Public hospitals have largely shut down due to drug and equipment shortages as well as frequent strikes by doctors and nurses pressing for better pay.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said on Wednesday it would press ahead with protests despite a heavy police presence. The council said at least one union leader had been arrested by secret police from the Central Intelligence Organisation.

Disease spreads to South Africa

South Africa on Wednesday said the cholera epidemic had spread across the border as thousands flee from Zimbabwe to seek treatment.

At least six people are known to have died from cholera in South Africa in the past few days. All are believed to have been from Zimbabwe.

South African officials are doing their best to contain the disease. However, they have admitted cholera has been found in the Limpopo River, which runs along the border with Zimbabwe and is an important source of water.

At least 40 South Africans have contracted the water-borne disease.