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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi s e-commerce revolution British aid is helping Malawi s IT development By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre A British company is paddling uncharted waters in
    Message 1 of 1046 , Oct 10, 2000
      Malawi's e-commerce

      British aid is helping Malawi's IT development
      By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

      A British company is paddling uncharted waters
      in Malawi's commerce revolution.

      International Computers Limited (ICL), a British
      company with interests in eight African
      countries, has embarked on a project to bring
      electronic commerce (e-commerce) to Malawi.

      George Mnesa, ICL's Malawi general, said the
      multi-national company would work with two of
      Malawi's three Internet Service Providers

      "We want Malawi to be part of the information
      revolution," he said.


      Mnesa said although Malawi was currently
      facing economic hardships his company found
      it necessary to introduce the elitist system of

      This comes fast in the wake of the British
      Government's signing of an agreement to
      support Malawi's IT development.

      British minister for
      Africa in the Foreign
      and Commonwealth
      Office Peter Hain told
      BBC News Online during
      a recent visit to Malawi
      that Britain has
      decided to include IT
      support in the
      development support
      for its former colony.

      "We know Malawi is
      facing a number of
      economic problems but
      we believe that
      nowadays no economy can develop without
      developing its IT sector," he said.


      According to Mr Hain British universities will link
      up with Malawian universities to development
      an IT collaboration programme.

      He also said British IT companies will set up
      partnerships with their Malawian counterparts.

      He said the system Britain was planning to
      export to Malawi has already proved successful
      in other developing countries, notably India.


      Mr Mnesa told the BBC ICL would utilise the
      services of Malawi's two mobile phone

      The two networks have about 30, 000
      subscribers between them.

      ISPs in Malawi are estimated to have just over
      5,000 subscribers between them.

      Michael Fairon, an 'e-nnovations' officer at ICL
      South Africa, recently visited Malawi to
      promote e-commerce in the business

      He said e-commerce propelled efficiency in

      He also said e-commerce cut the incidence of
      fraud since customer data was stored on the


      Mugabe opponent
      questioned by police

      Morgan Tsvangirai slipped home undetected
      Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan
      Tsvangirai has been released after questioning
      by police - the day after he avoided arrest on
      his return from South Africa.

      Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for
      Democratic Change (MDC), went to the central
      police station in the capital Harare after a
      request from the police and was released
      shortly afterwards.

      The government called
      for Mr Tsvangirai's
      arrest on suspicion of
      treason after he told a
      rally that President
      Mugabe could be
      removed from office by
      violent means.

      Three MDC MPs who
      were arrested at the weekend after allegedly
      calling for Mr Mugabe's overthrow have been
      freed without charge.

      Their lawyer said a regional magistrate
      determined they had no case to answer.

      An MDC youth leader arrested on similar
      charges on Monday was also released.

      Mr Tsvangirai appealed for calm on Monday
      outside his house after slipping into the
      country and evading the waiting police.

      He said he had not wanted to heighten tension
      by making a high-profile return.


      He told his supporters to remain calm saying
      Zimbabwe did not need any further anarchy.

      Mr Tsvangirai said he
      was not worried by the
      threat of arrest and
      had no intention of
      leaving the country.

      He repeated his
      warning to President
      Mugabe that he might
      face the anger of the
      Zimbabwean people
      and referred to the
      political demise of
      former Yugoslav leader
      Slobodan Milosevic.


      Mr Tsvangirai told a rally last week: "What we
      would like to tell Mugabe today is: Please go
      peacefully. If you don't want to go peacefully,
      we will remove you violently".

      "The country cannot afford Mugabe a day
      longer than necessary," he said.

      The government has indicated it considers the
      remarks treasonous.

      The maximum penalty for treason in Zimbabwe
      is the death penalty.

      The MDC has warned the government not to
      carry out the arrest of Mr Tsvangirai, saying
      such an arrest would be unjustified, unwise
      and likely to provoke unnecessary conflict.


      Briton Arrested for Murder of HIV-infected

      Panafrican News Agency
      October 8, 2000

      Raphael Tenthani

      The Malawian police have arrested a 55-year-old British citizen
      for allegedly killing his gardener in the posh Blantyre suburb of
      Mount Pleasant.

      Police spokesman Oliver Soko said Sunday that Iden Humpreys,
      who works for Stewart and Lloyds service company, was
      arrested together with another gardener, a cook and a security
      guard as suspects in the gruesome death of 25-year-old Stanley

      Soko would not give any further details but a police source close
      to the investigation said Lambike's relatives found him dead in
      the servant quarters with his private parts crushed, one testicle
      slit off and a huge slit on the neck which severed the throat.

      "Our interim investigations show that Lambeki has been ill for a
      long time and his boss has been paying for his hospital bill," he
      told PANA.

      The officer said that when Humpreys saw that he was spending
      a lot of money while the disease was taking a long time to be
      cured, he went to check at the hospital, where he was told that
      Lambike had developed full-blown AIDS and would not live long.
      Humpreys reportedly returned home a furious man.

      According to the police source, a cook in the household had then
      reportedly warned Lambeki that he overheard what his boss was
      saying in his anger and that his life might be in danger. Lambeki
      was found murdered shortly after.

      During a post-mortem, a curly white man's hair was reportedly
      found in Lambeki's newly caked blood. This prompted the police
      to arrest Humpreys as prime murder suspect.

      The police source ruled out the possibility that Lambeki could
      have been killed as a result of a bungled burglary attempt. His
      salary was still in the pocket.

      Soko said the three suspects, who have yet to be charged with
      any crime, would not be granted bail until police complete
      investigations into the case, which could be a first degree
      murder that carries a maximum of death sentence on conviction.


      High Ranking Politician Sues Newspaper

      Media Institute of Southern Africa
      October 9, 2000


      Malawi's ruling United Democratic Front vice president Aleke
      Banda has said he is suing the Lilongwe-based independent
      weekly, The Chronicle, over a story that fingered him as having
      had corruptly used 19 million Malawi Kwacha (about 264, 000 US

      In a front page story entitled 'Muluzi Urged To Dissolve Cabinet'
      sub-titled 'as his inaction is blamed on personal involvement in
      corruption', opposition Alliance for Democracy (AFORD)
      parliamentarian, Sam Kandodo Banda, was quoted as urging
      President Bakili Muluzi to dissolve his cabinet following the
      on-going investigations on fraud and corruption in his

      Kandodo Banda alleged that there was more to the corruption
      scam, suggesting that Aleke Banda, who stood and lost to him
      on the parliamentary race during the June 1999 elections, blew
      19 million Kwacha of public funds on the campaign.

      In a letter dated October 4, Banda, who is also Minister of Health
      and Population - through his lawyer, Shabir Latif of Sacraine,
      Gow and Company - has given The Chronicle two days to
      apologise to him and retract the story in their next edition.

      "These allegations have been made falsely, maliciously and are
      defamatory. These allegations are a complete fabrication and
      grave reflection on the reputation of our client as a person and as
      a cabinet minister," he said.

      But the paper's managing editor Robert Jamieson told MISA on
      Friday that the paper is standing by its story.

      "I think the problem is the UDF lawyers are ambulance chasing;
      they have created problems for the party. They need to re-read
      the story and understand what the story says," he said.

      Jamieson said at no time did the story implicate the health
      minister in the on-going 2 million US dollar scam which,
      according to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament,
      implicates at least six ministers.

      But Aleke Banda, in a telephone interview with MISA on Friday,
      said the fact that he was not directly connected him to the scam
      does not mean he was less hurt.

      "I am not interested in that story; it's very stupid for them to quote
      Kandodo's blatant lie and say we are silencing them when we
      sue. I am actually very angry with The Chronicle," he said.

      On Jamieson's allegations that the UDF was shooing him to sue
      because the president does not want the embarrasment of
      having to testify in person in court if his own suit against the
      paper goes ahead, Aleke Banda said he was not even aware
      what the president is doing.

      "It's very stupid of them to think I am being used. They and
      Kandodo have to justify their stupid allegations," he said.

      Banda's suit comes fast on the heels of another lawsuit for The
      Chronicle from President Bakili Muluzi. Muluzi sued The
      Chronicle over a story in which the paper said the president
      fuelled the whole corruption scam in the first place.

      Muluzi, who denies the charge, instructed his lawyers -
      Sacraine, Gow and Company - to claim substantial damages
      from the paper over the story if it did not retract it and apologise
      for it since, according to lawyer Latif, injured his both his
      personal integrity and that of the office of the president.

      The Chronicle refused to retract the story nor apologise for it and
      vowed to expose more on the corruption scam.


      Ruling Party Supporters Attack Opposition

      Panafrican News Agency
      October 9, 2000

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre, Malawi

      Malawi's opposition Congress Party (CP) has accused
      supporters of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) of
      attacking a CP "Corruption Rally" Sunday.

      "The UDF young democrats threw petrol bombs at our
      supporters," a parliamentarian of the Congress Party, Kizito
      Ngwenbe told PANA Monday.

      Police spokesman Oliver Soko confirmed the fracas but said no
      one has been arrested.

      "We are still investigating," he said.

      Ngwembe said five opposition party supporters were injured, two
      of them seriously, in the free-for-all.

      Carlos Kaufulu, a medical officer at the Lilongwe Central
      Hospital, said three of the injured were treated as outpatients
      while the other two were admitted at the intensive care units.

      "One of them, a woman, had deep multiple panga (knife) cuts on
      the head while the other one, a man, had a finger nearly hacked
      off," he said.

      Kaufulu, however, said the two seriously injured people were out
      of danger.

      Soko also said the opposition rally later went ahead with full
      police protection.

      Opposition leaders used the occasion to call for a daylong stay
      away from work.


      Harassment Of Newspaper Extends to
      Violence Against Vendor

      Media Institute of Southern Africa
      October 10, 2000


      "The Chronicle" newspaper reports that a group of United
      Democratic Front (UDF) Young Democrats beat up a news
      vendor until he lost consciousness because he was selling the
      paper in Blantyre. The incident happened during the first week of

      The vendor was admitted to hospital with head injuries. A close
      relative of the vendor told "The Chronicle" that the Young
      Democrats first demanded that the vendor sell them his entire lot
      of papers, but he refused, where after they rounded on him and
      beat him up. The assailants reportedly also threatened to find a
      "Chronicle" reporter who distributed the paper to the vendors and
      other selling joints in and around the city.

      Investigations by "The Chronicle" apparently revealed that all the
      newspapers that had been distributed to Times Bookshops had
      been bought by the same Young Democrats and later set
      ablaze. By Tuesday morning - the day after the weekly paper is
      published - all the Times Bookshops were short of the paper
      after it was bought by the Young Democrats.

      One vendor, who did not want his name published, was quoted
      as saying that the Young Democrats had "claimed that the paper
      has written bad things about the president".


      "The Chronicle" is currently facing the threat of lawsuits from
      President Bakili Muluzi and UDF vice president Aleke Banda,
      who is also Minister of Health and Population. This follows the
      publication of several stories detailing alleged corruption in
      government and the ruling party.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006

        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.


        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.


        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.


        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.


        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.


        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu


        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.



        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.


        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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