Cholera epidemic strikes Zimbabwe

The Mugabe government is accused of concealing the extent of a humanitarian crisis that the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai says represents the greatest threat ever to face his nation. The South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, says the situation in Zimbabwe 'may implode or collapse altogether'. A months-long political battle in Thailand has taken on an international dimension as protesters shut down Bangkok's airport. The head of the Thai army advises the country's prime minister to step down.

Powered by automated translation

"Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's President, is trying to hide the real extent of the cholera epidemic sweeping across his nation by silencing health workers and restricting access to the huge number of death certificates that give the same cause of death. "A senior official in the health ministry told The Independent yesterday that more than 3,000 people have died from the waterborne disease in the past two weeks, 10 times the widely-reported death toll of just over 300. "But even this higher figure is still an understatement because very few bother to register the deaths of their relatives these days," said the official, who requested anonymity. "He said the health ministry, which once presided over a medical system that was the envy of Africa, had been banned from issuing accurate statistics about the deaths, and that certificates for the fraction of deaths that had been registered were being closely guarded by the home affairs ministry." Mr Mugabe, The New York Time reported: "managed to keep three members of the Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela to tackle intractable problems, out of Zimbabwe over the weekend. But the members gave Mr Mugabe and leaders from across southern Africa an earful on Monday about Zimbabwe's grave humanitarian crisis and their responsibility to act more assertively to resolve it. "Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, bluntly told the heads of state in the 15-nation regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community, which is often accused of coddling Mr Mugabe, 'It's obvious that SADC could have and should have done more.' "Graca Machel, a women's rights advocate who is married to Mr Mandela, said after three days of listening to stories of heart-break from Zimbabwe in conversations here with refugees and others, 'Either the leadership doesn't have a clear picture of the suffering of their own people, or they don't care.' "Former President Jimmy Carter suggested that heads of state in the region had no clue about the extreme hardships in Zimbabwe, while Zimbabwe's leaders were callous. He said the African Union and the United Nations should send teams to document the situation inside the country. 'We all have the feeling leaders of SADC do not know what is going on in Zimbabwe, he said. The Los Angeles Times reported: "Carter said this year's planting season had been squandered because there was no seed available. The earliest possible harvest now is April 2010; farmers would need to be planting now to catch the rains for next spring's harvest. 'Meanwhile people are suffering from lack of food, which is the most critical need at this time.' "He said none of the four main hospitals in Zimbabwe was working and only 20 per cent of children were attending school, compared with 80 per cent last year. The main reason was that teachers stopped showing up because salaries, about $1 a month, did not even cover their transportation costs. "South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said the crisis was so serious that Zimbabwe could implode and collapse. He said the root cause was the lack of a legitimate government. "Mugabe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the leader of a small opposition group, Arthur Mutambara, agreed in September to share power following disputed elections, but soon after, Mugabe allocated the most powerful Cabinet jobs to his party, ZANU-PF. South African leaders have been putting intense pressure on Tsvangirai's party to accept those appointments, which would leave the Zimbabwean leader in control of the military and intelligence services while sharing police with the opposition."

"With a demure smile and a garland of jasmine, Thailand has always welcomed the world. China and Japan may have screened themselves off for centuries, but the ancient kingdom of Siam, as Thailand was once known, thrived on trade and tourism. Even today, the country depends on visitors lured by golden spires and white-sand beaches," Time magazine reported. "But on Nov 25, Thailand abandoned its traditional hospitality when antigovernment agitators swarmed Bangkok's international airport, grounding one of Asia's busiest air hubs. 'Basically, we are hostages,' said Irish tourist Dermuid McAnoy, expressing almost as much frustration toward the protesters as toward airline staff, who seemed to melt away as soon as the crowds armed with bamboo sticks and iron bars appeared. 'Yes, we can leave, but we have no place to go.' "Thailand's airport takeover marked an ominous turning point in a months-long political battle that has morphed from sideshow farce to centre-stage emergency. 'When you close down the gateway to the country, then you have reached the point of a national crisis,' says Panitan Wattanayagorn, a national-security expert at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. 'In fact, because this now affects Thailand's connection to the wider world, it is becoming an international crisis.'" The International Herald Tribune said: "The head of Thailand's Army urged the country's prime minister Wednesday to step down and call elections as he appealed to protesters who have paralysed the country's main international airport for two days to cease their demonstrations and leave the terminal. "'The government should return power to the people,' the commander of the army, General Anupong Paochinda Anupong, told reporters after meeting with business leaders. "In a country with a history of military coups, including one just two years ago, Anupong's statements carried particular weight. 'We will not seize power from the government,' he said. 'We are just making a suggestion and will let the government decide.' "A government spokesman, Nattawut Saikuar, rejected the recommendation on Thai television late Wednesday. 'The prime minister has said many times that he will not quit or dissolve Parliament,' Nattawut said. 'He has been democratically elected. That still stands.' " The Guardian said: "The bitter dispute tearing apart Thai society is exposing class and regional divisions that have emerged as the country engages with global economic forces. The appearance of Thaksin Shinawatra at the head of his Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party in the late 1990s crystallised resentment among the rural poor who felt excluded from the state's tourist and trade boom. "Thaksin scored a resounding victory in 2001, introducing a debt moratorium for farmers, radically cheaper health care for all and grants for village projects. His populist policies angered the establishment, including supporters of the royal family, middle-class Bangkok residents, academics, senior military officers and the Democrat party. "In September 2006, when Thaksin was attending a UN general assembly meeting in New York, the army moved. Accusing the prime minister of widespread corruption and nepotism, soldiers seized power. Not a shot was fired. The army dubbed it the Silk Revolution. "The division between Thaksin's supporters and opponents - between the rural and urban poor on one side and the Bangkok elite on the other - is what still divides the yellow and red factions battling it out on Bangkok's streets." Natalie Bennett wrote: "Thailand is now perhaps almost ungovernable (as the military, with its refusal to stage another coup has tacitly acknowledged). Its rural/urban cultural split starting to look frighteningly like that which provoked the Cambodian 'Killing Fields'. "Yet this is a state that appeared to have everything going for it over the past couple of decades: relative ethnic and cultural unity; massive foreign investment since the Vietnam War and high levels of growth; integration into the international market and attractions that have brought the tourists flooding in; lack of a martial culture despite a powerful military; a relatively benign natural environment. The American National Intelligence Council last week came to the rather late realisation that the triumph of the western democratic model is far from certain; Thailand is there now, as a turbulent case study for that conclusion."