December 1, 2008 / 2:24 PM / 11 years ago

Tsvangirai seeks help for Zimbabwe crisis

HARARE (Reuters) - Hundreds of angry Zimbabweans attacked soldiers carrying out a crackdown on illegal foreign currency trading in the capital Harare on Monday in a further sign of the country’s collapse.

Cholera patients rest on their beds inside the male ward of Budiriro Polyclinic in Harare December 1, 2008. Zimbabwe's health minister has warned that a cholera outbreak which has killed more than 400 people could spread in the rainy season running to April. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The crowd hurled stones at the troops and chanted “beat the soldiers,” accusing them of hitting and robbing people during the currency operation.

“Someone has to say enough is enough,” one youth said.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, witnesses said. There were no reports of injuries.

In other developments, a cholera outbreak spread and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai asked for international help to end a humanitarian crisis.

Zimbabweans have grown increasingly angry at the collapse of the once prosperous country, where a deadlock between veteran President Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai over a power-sharing deal has delayed hope of rescuing the ruined state.

Unemployment is over 90 percent, food and fuel are in short supply and inflation is officially over 230 million percent. At least 400 people have died from cholera.

MDC leader Tsvangirai, who beat Mugabe in the first round of a March presidential poll and then withdrew from the second round in June due to violence against his supporters, painted a picture of a nation on the edge of destruction.

“As I speak our country is consumed by a man-made humanitarian crisis with a recent outbreak of cholera,” Tsvangirai said in a statement.

“The food situation in our country is deplorable.. may I use this platform to appeal to the rest of the world to move with speed to assist us address the humanitarian situation in the country as it has reached catastrophic levels.”

GOVERNMENT BLAMES WEST

The World Health Organization has put the cholera death toll at around 400, but Zimbabwean rights groups estimate that up to 1,000 people have died from a disease that is preventable and treatable under normal conditions.

The water delivery system has broken down in Harare and other cities, forcing residents to drink from contaminated wells and streams.

The health minister said on Monday cholera now affected nine of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.

At the Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases clinic in Mbare, a Harare township, the mortuary was crammed with 18 bodies.

“We are recording as many as eight deaths every day,” a health worker said. “As you can see, staffing levels are low and we are having to rely on volunteers.”

Patients at a clinic in Budiriro, another Harare township, complained of inadequate drugs and poor care. A Reuters witness saw a steady stream of new admissions, including an elderly man brought in on a cart.

Mugabe’s government says the health system and economy are collapsing because of sanctions imposed by Western powers it says are trying to oust him for seizing thousands of white-owned farms and redistributing the land to blacks.

His critics say Mugabe, 84 and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has ruined one of Africa’s most promising economies through reckless policies and gross mismanagement.

The September 15 power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai has offered the best hope for ending the crisis, but establishing a unity government has been held up by disputes over ministerial posts.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change accuses Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party of trying to marginalize it in the shared administration. Tsvangirai said the MDC would continue “peaceful democratic resistance.”

“Our vision as a party is to set a precedent on our continent. A precedent of fighting dictatorships through democratic means,” Tsvangirai said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Speaking to reporters in Dakar after meeting Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, Tsvangirai called on the African Union to become involved in the crisis, which has been mediated so far by the 15-nation Southern African Development Community.

Mugabe accuses his foes of planning to reverse his land reform program of taking over white-owned farms.

His government also said it would defy a SADC tribunal ruling last week that declared the land seizures illegal under international law and ordered they be stopped.

Additional reporting by Dan Magnowski in Dakar; Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Paul Simao and Angus MacSwan

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