In the latest round of criticism against Zimbabwe's embattled President Robert Mugabe, Britain's Africa minister insisted today that the 84-year-old leader must step down.
After months of protests inside and outside the country, Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal with the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, Sept. 15.
But as both men have continued to battle over control of the government and important ministries, Zimbabwe has lurched from crisis to crisis.
Amid an increasingly fraught economic climate, Zimbabweans are now caught in the grip of a cholera epidemic, which has killed 1,111 people, according to figures released Thursday by the World Health Organization.
Paul Garwood of the organization's Department of Health Action in Crises, who recently returned from Zimbabwe, told ABC News that people there are suffering on many different levels. "The latest situation I saw was a health system in great need of assistance in terms of ... supplies, medicines, water and improvements in sanitation systems," he said. "In the immediate term, the great need is a response to the cholera outbreak, and there is a great need to control outbreaks that are springing up in different parts of the country."
According to the World Health Organization, 20,581 Zimbabweans have been struck with cholera since the outbreak of the disease in August.
On Dec. 13, the country's state-run newspaper, The Herald, quoted the information minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, as saying, "Cholera is a calculated racist terrorist attack on Zimbabwe by the unrepentant former colonial power which has enlisted support from its American and Western allies so that they can invade the country."
Ndlovu went on to describe the disease as a "serious biological chemical war ... a genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British."
The London Times reported today that 18 of the 21 companies blacklisted by the United States for financially supporting the Mugabe regime have been operating with impunity in Britain, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
At the top of the list, according to the Times, is the private equity firm, Breco, controlled by U.K.-based businessman John Bredenkamp. On its Web site, the U.S. Treasury describes Bredencamp as "a well-known Mugabe insider involved in various business activities, including tobacco trading, gray-market arms trading and trafficking, equity investments, oil distribution, tourism, sports management and diamond extraction.
"Through a sophisticated web of companies, Bredenkamp has financially propped up the regime and provided other support to a number of its high-ranking officials. He also has financed and provided logistical support to a number of Zimbabwean parastatal entities."
A spokesman for Bredenkamp said that he "vehemently denies all these charges," adding, "Mr. Bredenkamp has not met Mr. Mugabe for over 23 years neither is he a close associate of any minister or Zanu-PF official." And, the spokesman said, the company is challenging the U.S. Treasury Department designation.
Another businessman blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury, Zimbabwean Muller Rautenbach, is a shareholder in the Central African Mining and Exploration Company, or CAMEC, which loaned Mugabe's government $100 million.