Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said today that the United States and Britain are "stupid" to criticize him and insist that he step down.
After months of protests inside and outside the country, Mugabe signed a power-sharing deal Sept. 15 with Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition.
But, as the two men continue to fight over control of key Cabinet posts, international support for Mugabe's role in the power-sharing government has virtually disappeared.
Jendayi Frazer, the lead U.S. diplomat for Africa, said during the weekend that Mugabe must step down and Mark Malloch Brown, Britain's Africa minister, echoed the call Monday..
"This stupid and foolish thinking" ignores that only Zimbabweans can make such a decision, Mugabe said after attending a funeral for a retired army general, The Associated Press reported.
"We are not going to listen to what [President] Bush and [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown are saying," Mugabe said. "We do realize that these are the last kicks of a dying horse."
Under the power-sharing arrangement, the United States promised to lift sanctions if the deal was consummated.
But Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Sunday that the offer had been taken off the table.
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 last week 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," he said.
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 Herald, the country's state-run newspaper, 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 described the disease as a "serious biological chemical war ... a genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British."
The London Times reported Monday 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.
Blacklisted Firms Deny Role
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 Bredenkamp 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 representative 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 representative said, the company is challenging the U.S. Treasury Department designation.
$100M Loaned to Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean Muller Rautenbach, another businessman blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury, is a shareholder in the Central African Mining and Exploration Co., or CAMEC, which loaned Mugabe's government $100 million.
In an e-mail to ABC News, CAMEC spokesman Jon Simmons said that the company loaned the money so that the government could make its "payments to a series of mainly international creditors for a variety of commodities, primarily for seeds, grain, fertilizer and fuel."
"CAMEC undertook appropriate due diligence, as a result of which it is satisfied that the payments were used for these purposes. CAMEC has no reason to believe that the money may have been used for other purposes and has seen no evidence to suggest that this may be the case."
More Serious Health Risks
Garwood of the World Health Organization told ABC News that Zimbabwe is now in serious danger of facing more serious health risks because hunger and malnutrition are on the rise.
"There are great challenges with access to food in many parts of the country," he said. "By having people malnourished it just accentuates risks of increases of various diseases and makes people more prone to instances of cholera."
Even though Zimbabwe has modern hospitals and well-trained doctors, according to Garwood, the meager wages given to health workers have meant a virtual shutdown of these facilities as many workers search for other ways to bring in food.
Similarly, Zimbabwe -- once known as Africa's breadbasket -- now struggles to feed its own in the aftermath of years of inflation.
Mugabe has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain.
Critics blame his policies for the ruin of the once-productive nation, while Mugabe blames Western sanctions for the country's meltdown.
Opposition leader Tsvangirai said Friday that he intends to ask his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, to halt negotiations unless political detainees are released or charged by Jan. 1.
Opposition Party Speaks
He told reporters in Botswana that more than 42 members of his opposition party and civil society had been abducted in the last two months. They include three journalists; their whereabouts remain unknown.
"The MDC can no longer sit at the same negotiating table with a party that is abducting our members and other innocent civilians and refusing to produce any of them before a court of law," Tsvangirai said.
Donna Sherrington, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.