HARARE, Dec 16 – President Robert Mugabe’s government railed against western efforts to put Zimbabwe on the UN Security Council agenda, as deaths from a cholera epidemic inched closer to 1,000.,
The United States and Britain were expected to lobby the council to turn up the heat on Mugabe, amid mounting international pressure for him to step aside as his country caves in under an economic meltdown and cholera crisis.
United Nations figures released Monday showed 978 people had died of the disease, with 18,413 suspected cases reported across the country.
The UN Security Council was due Monday to hold a closed-door meeting, and Washington said last week it would pressure members to act against the veteran leader, whom it blames directly for Zimbabwe’s woes.
Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told the state-owned Herald newspaper it was "improper" for Western countries to try to put Zimbabwe on the agenda.
"You do not convene a UN Security Council meeting for a sovereign state without consulting that country," he was quoted as saying.
"We are not a threat. If they insist, we will work hard to block it with the assistance of our friends."
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said a cholera epidemic, spreading rapidly since the breakdown of basic water services in the country, had worst affected the capital Harare with 208 deaths.
The new figures came as a truck from South Africa’s Red Cross bearing vital supplies to assist in treating the cholera epidemic was due to arrive, following an urgent appeal for more funds to deal with the crisis.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington was talking to Zimbabwe’s neighbour South Africa and other Security Council members about how to "start a process that will bring an end to the tragedy that is unfolding in Zimbabwe."
Several world leaders have called on Mugabe to leave office, including US President George W. Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The security body has failed to act against Mugabe in the past amid splits between the Western nations and Russia and China.
A constitutional amendment set to pave the way toward the formation of a power-sharing leadership was gazetted Saturday, but treated sceptically by parties who said key issues could still see the deal fall apart.
"Alarmed" by the spiralling crisis in Zimbabwe, Canada called Monday for "the urgent engagement" of regional leaders.
"Canada is alarmed by the worsening humanitarian, economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe, which is claiming the lives of more Zimbabweans every day and threatening the stability of the region," said Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon.
Noting that basic services have collapsed as a result of the government breakdown, Cannon said he was "deeply concerned over the recent return to a pattern of human-rights abuses and abductions."
The MDC on Monday accused Mugabe’s government of planning to institute a state of emergency as an excuse to disregard rule of law.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secretary general Tendai Biti told a press conference the ruling ZANU-PF was recording forced confessions from 15 MDC supporters it had abducted since October to use as fodder for implementing a state of emergency.
"We have no doubt as a party that they are going to declare a state of emergency. We are aware of a document which runs into tens of pages," Biti said in the capital Harare.
Zimbabwe’s authorities on Monday also claimed that Botswana, a vocal regional critic, was supporting an opposition plot to overthrow Mugabe, labelling its neighbour a "surrogate" of western powers.
"What evidence is there establishes that Botswana has rendered itself a surrogate of Western imperial powers, that it is acting contrary to its past role as a Frontline State, and that it has to be a destabilising factor in the region," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said in the Herald.
In southern African, Botswana has been the most consistently critical of Mugabe’s regime, in stark contrast to the silence of Zimbabwe’s other neighbours.
However, Biti said the whole of Africa was losing patience with Mugabe.
"It’s not only Botswana which has said things are not well in Zimbabwe. Africa is impatient with ZANU-PF … every African leader is sick about Zimbabwe."
Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a unity accord three months ago, but have so far failed to agree on how to form a cabinet, leaving government in limbo.
Zimbabwe, once a role model economy in Africa now faces a myriad of problems including run-away inflation of 231 million percent, compounded by a growing humanitarian crisis as cholera is expected to spread to 60,000 people.
It is also expected that some five million people will need food aid in the coming months.