Zimbabwe cholera death toll rises

Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic has claimed at least 1 778 lives since August last year with the number of diagnosed cases rising to 35 931, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the organisation reported 1 732 dead and 34 306 suspected cases of the water-borne disease.

United Nations aid agencies have been warning for weeks that the number of cases could top 60 000, with the impending rainy season likely to facilitate the spread of the disease.

All 10 of the country’s provinces have been hit, according to UN statistics, which remain incomplete because of a lack of local medical personnel and communications problems.

Zimbabweans are also struggling against hyper-inflation, severe food shortages and chronic political instability.

Meanwhile, seven members of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were the first of dozens of jailed dissidents to be formally charged on Wednesday, and they pleaded not guilty in a bombing plot.

The seven are among rights activists and MDC members detained in recent weeks in what the MDC calls a crackdown on dissent. They were charged with terrorism, banditry and insurgency, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

They include Gandi Mudzingwa, an adviser to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai; and Chris Dhlamini, head of security for Tsvangirai’s party.

Lawyer Alec Muchadehama, who entered the not guilty pleas on behalf of his clients, told the judge the charges were “ridiculous and scandalous”.

He also called two doctors, who testified the defendants had been beaten while in police custody and had serious injuries. Muchadehama asked the judge to allow the defendants to be further examined outside jail to determine whether they had been tortured.

The prosecutors argued that the two doctors’ testimony was not credible. The judge was expected to rule on Thursday on the request for further medical examination.

The charges stem from two minor blasts in the main Harare police station and a botched bombing of a highway bridge and railroad line west of Harare last year.

Several MDC activists accused of involvement had been acquitted earlier, and police have said the bombs at the police station may have been planted by disgruntled officers, possibly to destroy incriminating evidence.—AFP, Sapa-AP

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