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ZANU-PF Prepares for Annual Conference as Cholera Deaths Soar

Harare's streets are busy as hundreds of delegates to President Robert Mugabe's annual ZANU-PF conference converge from all over the country. The annual conference is being held as the death toll continues to climb from a cholera epidemic that has further strained the country's crumbling healthcare system.

The United Nations says 1,100 people have died in the cholera epidemic spreading through mostly urban areas in Zimbabwe.

Anti-cholera drugs, clean water and medical assistance are mostly being provided by the non-governmental sector, as the state's hospitals and most of its clinics are either closed or have no equipment or staff. The health ministry, once one of Africa's best, has virtually collapsed because of lack of drugs and worthless salaries for medical staff.

In addition to the health crisis, President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF conference is also being held amid the possibility that Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai may be returning home from Botswana. Political sources in Harare say Zimbabwe negotiations facilitator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki has sent a letter to Mr. Tsvangirai encouraging him to return home to be sworn in as prime minister.

Mr. Tsvangirai's aides say they have been told that a new passport is due to be issued to him. He has been denied one since June.

The MDC won control of Zimbabwe's parliament in March elections, but there are several views within the MDC about whether the party should take part in a government of national unity. Mr. Tzvangirai was to become prime minister as part of a power-sharing agreement that was worked out following the controversial presidential elections earlier this year.

Some, such as party spokesman Nelson Chamisa and secretary-general Tendai Biti say there are still too many fundamental issues outstanding for the MDC to take part in an inclusive government.

Mr. Tsvangirai is due to hold a press conference Friday in Botswana.

While the inclusive government is still not formed, ZANU-PF continues to make crucial appointments and has appointed party loyalist Johannes Tomana as attorney general. Recently Mr. Mugabe re-appointed an ally, Central Bank Governor Gideon Gono for another five-year term.

Economists say Gono is responsible for hyperinflation and record-breaking devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar. The local currency is now largely replaced by U.S. dollars or South African rands.

ZANU-PF and the MDC signed a political agreement in September for an inclusive government under which Mr. Mugabe would not be able to make any senior public appointments without Mr. Tsvangirai's approval once he is sworn in as prime minister..

Meanwhile, at least three MDC activists have been abducted from their home area, Bindura, about 40 kilometers from Harare. This brings to nearly 30 people abducted from their home or workplace in the past seven weeks.