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Dec. 6, 2008 at 10:06 PM

U.N. expects Zimbabwe cholera toll to rise

HARARE, Zimbabwe, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- The number of cholera cases and deaths in Zimbabwe could jump 400 percent in the coming weeks, a U.N. agency projects.

The U.N. Children's Fund said it is preparing to deal with as many as 60,000 cholera cases, with perhaps 3,000 deaths, the BBC reported Saturday. The United Nations said Friday there have been 589 deaths and nearly 14,000 cases so far. Most of the cases have been in the capital city of Harare but cholera has been reported in nine of the African nation's 10 provinces.

Roeland Monasch, the head of UNICEF, told the British network the number of dead is probably far higher than official figures, noting many medical facilities are closed and rural people frequently bury their dead without notifying authorities.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is calling it an international crisis and urged the world to press upon Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe "enough is enough."

Tsitsi Singizi, UNICEF's Zimbabwean communication officer, said local authorities do not have the capacity to provide safe water and rubbish collection, a key factor in keeping cholera outbreaks at bay. Singizi said health services have collapsed, making it impossible to treat the growing number of victims.

"The outbreak is really outpacing our response," Singizi said. "It's becoming endemic."

UNICEF has started an emergency response program that concentrates on providing basic needs. The disease also has spread to neighboring South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana.

Mugabe's government has declared a national emergency and appealed for international assistance, the BBC said. Mugabe is locked in a dispute with opponents, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, over who should run the country.


Lawyers: Blackwater shootings justified

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Lawyers for five military contractors facing charges for a deadly shootout in Baghdad said Saturday they expect their clients to be cleared.

The men, all employees of Blackwater Worldwide, were indicted this week by a federal grand jury. They were involved in killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in September 2007.

The federal government has not identified the defendants. The Washington Post, citing lawyers and sources, said they are Evan Liberty, 26, of Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, 25, of Sparta, Tenn.; Dustin Heard, 27, of Maryville, Tenn.; Donald Ball, 26, of Salt Lake City; and Paul Slough, 29, of Sanger, Texas.

All are veterans of the Army or Marines and all, except Liberty, had served in Iraq before joining Blackwater, the newspaper said.

"The indictment is an effort by bureaucrats in Washington to second-guess split-second decisions made by honorable men during a firefight in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world," Tom Connolly, Slatten's lawyer, said.

However, an FBI investigation has determined that at least 14 of the 17 deaths could not be justified, The New York Times said Friday.

The lawyers said they would argue that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction in the case. The contractors had immunity from Iraqi prosecution.


Shinseki reportedly tapped for VA post

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has picked retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki to head up the Veterans Affairs Department, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The Post said a Democratic official familiar with the situation had revealed Obama would introduce the former Army chief of staff as his choice for the Cabinet-level post Sunday.

The Post also reported that Obama said in an exclusive interview with NBC News, to be aired on "Meet the Press," that Shinseki is "exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home."

Shinseki's national profile zoomed up nearly six years ago when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" could be necessary to win the war in Iraq. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Shinseki's estimate "will prove to be high."

Three years later, Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the same Senate panel, Shinseki was right.

Shinseki retired in the summer of 2003 and has since joined the boards of Honeywell International Inc. and Ducommun Inc., both companies focused on military contracting. He also is on the board of the Hawaiian companies Grove Farm Corp. and First Hawaiian Bank.


Laid-off workers stage sit-in

CHICAGO, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Laid-off workers at the Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago remained camped out there Saturday, refusing to leave without their severance pay.

WMAQ-TV reported about 50 of the 200 idled workers could be seen through a window sitting on chairs and pallets on the factory floor. The Chicago TV station said reporters were asked to stay out of the plant's work area.

"We're going to stay here until we win justice," said Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, who had been inside for several hours.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the workers occupied the factory and warehouse Friday after company officials didn't show at negotiations brokered by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., between the company and its bank. The workers say they are owed vacation and severance pay.

Republic said it was closing its doors as a result of Bank of America cutting its credit line.

Union officials said the company failed to give the 60 days' notice required by federal law and that the bank barred the company from paying for the 60-day period or for vacation time earned by employees, the newspaper reported.

"It's completely shameless that Bank of America took billions in taxpayer dollars and cuts off credit to a company we believe could have stayed in business," United Electrical Workers union official Leah Fried said.

Bank of America said it was not responsible for Republic's obligations.

Republic has been in business since 1965.

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