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UN reports higher number of cholera cases, deaths in Zimbabwe

HARARE, Zimbabwe - More than 1,000 new cholera cases were recorded in Zimbabwe Tuesday, the UN reported, following a week in which the epidemic had showed signs of slowing.

HARARE, Zimbabwe - More than 1,000 new cholera cases were recorded in Zimbabwe Tuesday, the UN reported, following a week in which the epidemic had showed signs of slowing.

The UN's World Health Organization reported 1,080 new cases and 21 more deaths Tuesday. It also corrected an earlier figure of 751 new cases for Monday to 675, with 59 more deaths Monday. In all, impoverished Zimbabwe has had more than 35,000 cases and more than 1,700 deaths since the August start of the outbreak.

The rapid and deadly spread of the waterborne disease is blamed on the collapse of Zimbabwe's health and sanitation infrastructure, in an economy destroyed by low production in the key agricultural sector and high inflation. A deadlock over power-sharing has kept political leaders from addressing the crisis.

WHO's cholera report for the week that ended Saturday showed a "marked decrease" over the previous week, with 3,690 cases compared to 5,730, and 79 deaths down from 358. The agency cautioned, though, that official figures were likely low, because many Zimbabweans can't get to clinics and hospitals to seek treatment. Reporting may also have affected by the New Year holiday.

The UN said access to and quality of care is improving, "but should continue to be strengthened." International aid agencies have geared up in recent weeks to fight the cholera epidemic.

The political deadlock, meanwhile, continues, with President Robert Mugabe's government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change showing little sign of moving toward compromise.

Mugabe's regime has accused its opponents of plotting violence, even though leaders of neighbouring countries and international rights groups have said such charges are baseless. The opposition says the plot allegations have been fabricated amid an increasing clampdown on dissent, and could be used as an excuse to declare a state of emergency.

None of the accused has been formally charged. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had threatened to pull out of power-sharing talks if they were not charged or released by Jan. 1, but has not yet moved to do so.

On Tuesday, a magistrate ordered a prominent peace activist and eight opposition members accused in the plot held another week while lawyers argue over whether they should be examined at a hospital so charges of torture can be investigated. Another judge had ordered the medical exams on Monday, but prosecutors have appealed that order.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer for the defendants, said the accused were "victims of torture" who "should not be brought before any court as they were unlawfully arrested."

Mugabe, who has been in power since the country's 1980 independence from Britain, agreed in September to share power with the opposition following a disputed presidential election. Under the deal, Mugabe is to remain president and Tsvangirai would get the new post of prime minister.

The deal has broken down, with Tsvangirai accusing Mugabe of trying to hold on to too many key cabinet posts.

The Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, reported Monday that Mugabe was expected to form a new government by the end of February, apparently without the opposition. Tsvangirai insists he will not become prime minister in a unity government until disagreements are settled.

 
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