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Mugabe: 'There is no cholera'

Zimbabwe's leader said the epidemic was over. A rival-party speaker called that "madness."

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe declared yesterday that a cholera epidemic in the nation had been "arrested," even as the United Nations said deaths from the illness had risen to 783.

In a speech at a funeral for a ruling-party official, Mugabe credited the World Health Organization for helping contain the outbreak in Zimbabwe, which last week declared a national health emergency.

"Now there is no cholera, there is no cause for war," Mugabe said, according to news-service reports. "We need doctors, not soldiers."

His assessment was disputed by health-care groups, which have flooded the country in recent weeks with supplies and personnel. On Wednesday, the United Nations called for an additional $6 million to battle cholera.

Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, told the Bloomberg news service that Mugabe's assertion was "clearly madness."

Mugabe, Zimbabwe's leader for 28 years, has faced increasing international pressure as the cholera crisis has grown. Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called on African nations to use force to depose Mugabe.

Mugabe has accused the West of using the cholera outbreak to plot an invasion.

The outbreak, which health officials attribute to a collapsed sanitation system and a lack of clean water, has sickened more than 16,400 people, according to U.N. figures released yesterday.