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Zim withdraws peacekeepers in Liberia

Zimbabwe has both police and prison officers serving in the Ebola-hit West African country.

A nurse wears protective clothing as he demonstrates the facilities in place at the Royal Free Hospital in north London on 6 August 2014, in preparation for a patient testing positive for the Ebola virus. Picture: AFP.

HARARE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has reportedly decided to withdraw peacekeepers serving in Liberia due to the Ebola outbreak.

Zimbabwe has both police and prison officers serving in the West African country.

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC)says this doesn't mean Zimbabwe is panicking and it's just a precautionary measure.

This is the worst-ever outbreak of the disease, which has so far killed 932 people.

Earlier this week, senior home affairs official Ziyambi Ziyambi said Zimbabwean peacekeepers serving with the UN in Liberia were in no danger of contracting Ebola.

But with news that the outbreak is worsening, ZBC says Mugabe has decided to withdraw the officers.

The exact number of Zimbabwean peacekeepers currently serving in Liberia isn't clear, though the country is known to have more than a thousand police officers serving on various UN missions around the world.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf yesterday declared a state of emergency in Liberia.

SIERRA LEONE BLOCKADES EBOLA HIT AREAS

Police and soldiers in Sierra Leone blockaded rural areas hit by the deadly Ebola virus on Thursday, a senior officer said, after neighbouring Liberia declared a state of emergency.

President Johnson-Sirleaf announced emergency measures late on Wednesday that will, for 90 days, allow her government to curtail civil rights by imposing quarantines on badly affected communities to contain an epidemic that has struck four West African nations.

In Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO) experts were due to hold a second day of meetings to discuss emergency measures to tackle the outbreak and whether to classify it as an international public health emergency.

Though the vast majority of cases are in the remote border area of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, concern over Ebola's spread grew last month when a US citizen died in Nigeria of the virus after arriving from the region. A nurse who treated him has now also died in Lagos, and at least five other people have been isolated with symptoms.

In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone also died early on Wednesday in Jeddah.

Some major airlines, such as British Airways and Emirates, have halted flights to affected countries, while many expatriates are leaving, officials have said.

In eastern Sierra Leone - the worst-hit area of the country - the head of police said security forces deployed last night "to establish a complete blockade" of Kenema and Kailahun districts, setting up 16 checkpoints on major roads.

"No vehicles or persons are allowed into or out of the districts," Alfred Karrow-Kamara told Reuters, saying the measures would last for an initial 50-day period.

He said traders who had registered with security agencies would be able to bring in food and medicines. Security forces would mount foot patrols to ensure civilians did not slip past their roadblocks through the bush.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

In Liberia, where the death toll is rising fastest, authorities on Wednesday shut a major hospital after its Cameroonian director died of Ebola and six other staff tested positive, including two nuns and a 75-year-old Spanish priest.

President Johnson-Sirleaf said in a statement late on Wednesday that 32 health workers had already died of the disease and many sick people were going untreated after doctors deserted their posts. Schools across the country were shut last week and non-essential government workers temporarily laid off.

With Liberian troops being deployed to quarantine badly hit communities, Johnson-Sirleaf said the state of emergency was necessary for "the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people."

The military deployment - Operation White Shield - is expected to be fully in place by Friday, officials said.

In the ramshackle, ocean-front capital, residents greeted the announcement with alarm.

"This is the beginning of hardship. Ninety days of fear and suffering," said Nancy Poure, a small trader in the suburb of Johnsonville. "We need help from America. We need help."

After a trial drug was administered to two US charity workers infected in Liberia, three of the world's leading Ebola specialists urged the WHO to offer people in West Africa the chance to take experimental drugs to fight the disease.

Liberian authorities have said they are willing to authorise in-country clinical trials. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he lacked enough information to approve the use of experimental drugs, adding that Ebola could be controlled with a strong public health response.

The WHO said it would ask medical ethics experts to explore emergency use of experimental treatments.

Additional reporting by Reuters.