- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) | City workers in Zimbabwe’s capital began an indefinite strike Friday, demanding to be paid in foreign currency.

The strikers — including mortuary attendants and trash collectors — were reporting for work but would not perform their duties, said Cosmas Bundu, head of the municipal workers union in Harare.

“We can’t afford to continue to receive our salaries in Zimbabwe currency, which is not buying anything,” Mr. Bundu said.

Last week, Zimbabwe’s central bank released a new 50-billion note in the country’s currency. It was worth only $1.25 on the black market.

Zimbabwe faces the world’s highest official inflation. The city workers join teachers, doctors, nurses and even bus drivers in demanding to be paid in U.S. dollars or South African rand. State newspapers this week started charging in U.S. dollars and even the Zimbabwe soccer federation has asked to be able to charge in hard currency.

The crisis comes amid a power-sharing deadlock that has left the country leaderless since a disputed March election.

The impact of the municipal workers’ strike may be muted because so many city services had already collapsed because of lack of materials or funds. Trash has been piling up and water treatment plants are crippled, contributing to a spreading cholera epidemic.

The United Nations said Friday the number of cholera cases recorded since August reached 50,003 on Thursday. The death toll through Thursday was 2,773.

At a briefing in Geneva Friday, Dr. Tammam Aloudat, a health emergencies specialist with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the number of cases could go beyond the “nightmare scenario” of 60,000 the U.N. health agency predicted a few weeks ago.

At the current rate of 1,300 new infections a day, that figure would be reached within a week. Dr. Aloudat said there was “very little chance” of the outbreak being contained before then.

Meanwhile in Brussels, European Union officials said the bloc will add 25 individuals and 36 companies to a list of banned allies of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe on Monday because of their links to suspected human rights abuses, Reuters news agency reported.

The sanctions list will for the first time include companies registered in the 27-nation European Union, two EU diplomats said, without naming the firms.

The moves will bring the bloc’s Zimbabwe sanctions list to more than 200 people and 40 companies, by adding government members and relatives of Mugabe allies.

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