POLITICS - A day after Zimbabwe declared a national emergency over a cholera epidemic and the collapse of its health-care system, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu yesterday called for the removal of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, by force if necessary.
"I think now that the world must say: `You have been responsible with your cohorts for gross violations, and you are going to face indictment in The Hague unless you step down,'" Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, told a Dutch current affairs TV show.
Zimbabwe's state media reported yesterday the government is seeking more international help to combat the crisis.
The failure of the southern African nation's health care system is one of the most devastating effects of the country's overall economic collapse.
Facing the highest inflation in the world, Zimbabweans are struggling just to eat and find clean drinking water. The United Nations says the number of suspected cholera cases in Zimbabwe since August has climbed above 12,600, with 570 deaths, due to a lack of clean water and broken sewage pipes.
Cholera is an infectious intestinal disease contracted from contaminated food or water. Its symptoms include severe diarrhea.
"He (Mugabe) has destroyed a wonderful country. A country that used to be a bread basket – it has now become a basket case," Tutu said.
The Nobel laureate, who was one of the continent's leading voices against the former apartheid regime in South Africa, said the African Union or the Southern African Development Community (SADC) would have the capacity to remove Mugabe.
Residents are getting little help from the government, which has been paralyzed since disputed March elections as Mugabe and the opposition wrangle over a power-sharing deal.
"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning," Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said Wednesday at a meeting of government and international aid officials, according to the state-run Herald newspaper.
International aid agencies and donors must step up their response, Matthew Cochrane, regional spokesperson for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said yesterday.
"This is about supporting the people of Zimbabwe," Cochrane said, adding aid should include water treatment plants and more medical staff.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, long among Mugabe's sharpest critics, agreed that Zimbabwe was facing a national emergency and nations must step in to help.
"Mugabe's failed state is no longer willing or capable of protecting its people," Brown said in a statement yesterday.
"The international community's differences with Mugabe will not prevent us doing so – we are increasing our development aid, and calling on others to follow."
Britain has offered about $5.6 million and set aside a further $13.1 million in relief aid to provide medicine, fund basic health services and help prevent more cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe.
The European Commission is providing more than $19.5 million for drugs and clean water and the International Red Cross shipped in more supplies Wednesday to fight the cholera outbreak.
In 2006 Robert Mugabe visited Iran to discuss trade options and an alliance against the United States.
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