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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi Gets 19 Million-Dollar Debt Relief Panafrican News Agency 1, 3001 Posted to the web January 30, 2001 Blantyre Bilateral creditors grouped under the
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jan 31, 2001
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      Malawi Gets 19 Million-Dollar Debt Relief

      Panafrican News Agency
      1, 3001
      Posted to the web January 30, 2001

      Blantyre

      Bilateral creditors grouped under the Paris Club have cancelled
      19 million US dollars of Malawi's foreign debt, repayment of which
      was due between December 2000 and December 2003.

      A press release issued in Paris by Malawi finance officials said
      representatives from Austria, France, Germany, Japan, Italy,
      Spain, Sweden and the UK debated on the restructuring of
      Malawi's external debt within the framework of the World Bank's
      Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

      "All bilateral debt contracted by the government from its Paris Club
      creditor countries on concessional terms before January 1997 will
      be rescheduled and repaid over a period of 40 years with a
      16-year grace period," the statement said.

      It added that 90 percent of Malawi's non-concessional debt
      contracted before 1 January 1997 will be cancelled while the
      remaining 10 percent will be rescheduled for repayment over a
      23-year period.

      Malawian officials were upbeat about the fallout from talks with the
      Paris Club.

      "This is a far much better deal than we had hoped for," observed
      Aloysius Naphyiyo, director of administration and finance at the
      treasury.

      Naphyiyo said Malawian finance officials ordinarily expected debt
      cancellation of only three million US dollars and a concession only
      for debt accrued before January 1996.

      However, the Paris Club write-offs were not without conditions.
      Among other things, the seven donor nations expect Malawi to
      implement a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper and effect other
      economic reform programmes.

      Malawi has also been strongly urged to face corruption and waste
      more squarely.

      Observers at the Malawi-Paris Club summit included officials from
      USA, Belgium, Canada, Norway and Russia as well as the IMF, the
      International Development Association, the African Development
      Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
      Development.

      Established in 1956, the Paris Club is an informal gathering of
      major industrialised nations who meet regularly in the French
      capital to discuss debts owed by the developing world.

      *****

      Malawi High Court Judges 5 On Contempt
      Charges

      Panafrican News Agency
      January 30, 2001
      Posted to the web January 30, 2001

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre, Malawi

      The Malawi High Court Monday started hearing a case of five men
      charged with contempt of court for violently disrupting an
      opposition political rally in Ndirande, Blantyre's most densely
      populated township.

      The accused include the Mayor of Blantyre, John Chikakwiya; a
      member of the ruling United Democratic Front or UDF, and three
      senior police officers.

      Lawyer's for the National Democratic Alliance or NDA, a pressure
      group formed recently by sacked senior minister Brown
      Mpinganjira complained that Chikakwiya ordered the police to
      disrupt a planned joint rally by NDA and the opposition alliance of
      the Malawi Congress Party or MCP and the Alliance for
      Democracy or AFORD on 15 January 2001.

      Lawyers Viva Nyimba and Ralph Kasambara told presiding judge
      Edward Twea that after Mayor Chikakwiya ran an advert on the
      state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation banning any political
      gathering on that day, NDA officials sought a court injunction
      restraining the enforcement of the order.

      High Court judge Dunstain Mwaungulu duly granted the injunction
      but, according to Nyimba, Chikakwiya did not revoke his order.

      Acting on the mayoral orders, the police officers fired teargases
      for five hours to disperse the estimated 10,000 people who had
      come to listen to the opposition.

      The NDA lawyers said this was blatant contempt of court by both
      the mayor and the senior police officers who were also served with
      the order.

      "Your worship, the courts have an interest in preserving that their
      orders are upheld. I therefore pray that the accused people be
      held in contempt and be committed to prison," the lawyer said.

      But the defence lawyer Meyer Chisanga, representing the Mayor,
      and Chief State Advocate MacLean Kamwambi, representing the
      three police officers, argued that since the injunction was served
      late in the day, there was no time to consult on how to react.

      Kamwambi said no police officer after being assigned on a duty,
      can act to the contrary before another order from superiors
      advising otherwise.

      He said since they had received the order to disperse the crowd,
      they had no choice but to carry out that particular order, the court
      injunction notwithstanding.

      The presiding judge, Justice Twea, adjourned the case to next
      Monday when he is expected to make his ruling.

      Whichever way Twea would rule, observers believe this will be a
      test case on the fast changing political landscape in Malawi.

      Since the formation of his pressure group, Mpinganjira has been
      wielding huge support nation-wide especially for his constant call
      for the formation of a government of nation unity involving all the
      country's political parties.

      Mpinganjira's opposition to President Bakili Muluzi's intention to
      run for a third term is also attracting many people.

      The former minister complains of frequent police interference in
      the holding of his rallies.

      He cited last Sunday's episode whereby the police withdrew the
      permission he had received from Lilongwe Mayor Charles
      Chimdzeka to hold a rally in the Malawi capital.

      This he said forced him to address the planned meeting in the
      outskirts of the city without the mayor's permission.

      Meanwhile, the High Court in Blantyre has summoned Dumbo
      Lemani, minister of state for presidential affairs and a close aide of
      President Bakili Muluzi, and Davis Kapito, the ruling UDF's regional
      governor for the south, to appear in court on Thursday to answer
      contempt of court charges.

      Lemani and Kapito allegedly defied an order by Blantyre Principal
      Resident Magistrate Silvester Kalembera who ordered that no
      politician, including the president, should comment on
      Mpinganjira's corruption case in public rallies.

      This was after Mpinganjira's lawyers had complained that senior
      UDF officials were making comments on the judgement on the
      case in their public meetings.

      A defiant Lemani, who has recently come under increasing
      pressure from within the ruling party for allegedly confusing the
      party, was unconcerned, telling journalists in Blantyre he was
      ready to go to jail.

      "I hear they plan to arrest me for two weeks. I am not afraid as
      long as they allow me to go inside with my Bible," he said.

      A group of senior UDF officials last week wrote a letter asking
      President Muluzi to fire Lemani as minister and director of party
      affairs because, according to them, his cowboy antics are draining
      the popularity of the ruling party.

      *****

      Red Tape Delays Malawi Corruption Probe

      African Eye News Service
      January 30, 2001
      Posted to the web January 30, 2001

      Brian Ligomeka
      Blatyre

      Malawi police are refusing to arrest 11 parliamentarians and 44
      other corruption suspects implicated in a US$2,5 million tender
      scam that rocked President Bakili Muluzi's government last year.

      Police spokesman Oliver Soko said on Tuesday police would not
      arrest anyone until Public Prosecutions Director Farhad Assani
      agreed to hand over his original investigation dockets on the
      suspects, as required by law.

      The syndicate allegedly systematically defrauded government of
      US$2,5 million by awarding construction contracts to non-existent
      companies, or companies owned and operated by friends and
      family.

      The scandal sparked an international outcry and prompted
      President Muluzi to axe three cabinet ministers named in an
      interim investigation report.

      One of the ministers, Brown Mpinganjira, was however acquitted
      this month on charges of accepting a bribe in return for approving
      tenders while he was education minister in 1998.

      Mpinganjira's name does not appear in the photocopied dockets
      handed to police last week. The dockets contain evidence
      collected by Malawi's Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), Auditor
      General and Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee.

      Soko said on Friday that police were required by law to present
      the original investigation dockets and all related evidence to court
      immediately after arresting suspects.

      Assani expressed concern, however, that evidence would be lost
      or stolen once handed to police.

      "We decided to only give police photocopies as a safeguard
      against disaster. Police have previously lost exhibits and delayed
      justice because investigations had to be repeated," said Assani.

      Assani meanwhile also confirmed that the Anti-Corruption Bureau
      would establish an internal legal unit and hire additional forensic
      investigators in March following public criticism about the length of
      time it took to investigate cases.

      The bureau currently has only two senior investigators, 12 junior
      investigators and one lawyer, Alexius Nampota, who also doubles
      as its deputy director.

      Bureau director Gilton Chiwaula said on Friday that his Lilongwe
      office received 467 complaints, while the bureau's Blantyre office
      received 192 complaints between July and December 2000.

      Resource and budget constraints meant that only two cases were
      investigated in both of the offices. Chiwaula said the bureau
      needed at least 34 senior investigators to handle its current work
      load. African Eye News Service

      *****

      Muluzi Denies Plans For Third Term

      African Eye News Service
      January 30, 2001
      Posted to the web January 30, 2001

      Brian Ligomeka
      Blantyre

      Malawi President Bakili Muluzi this week denied weeks of public
      speculation that he intended changing the country's constitution
      and running for a third term in office in 2004.

      Malawi information minister and chief government spokesman,
      Clement Stambuli, said Muluzi would honour existing constitutional
      restrictions limiting presidents to two consecutive five-year terms.

      Stambuli tried last week to defuse growing civil society opposition
      to Muluzi's possible re-election by telling national radio that
      speculation was premature.

      "The ruling United Democratic Front, of which Muluzi is president,
      has also just reviewed its own internal constitution to include the
      same limitation. We would not do this if there were plans for Muluzi
      to run for a third term as national president," said Stambuli.

      The denials contradict public statements a string of senior UDF
      leaders, including Blantyre mayor John Chikakwiya, who told a
      rally that Muluzi would seek re-election despite criticism from
      opposition parties and local human rights watchdogs.

      UDF parliamentarian Elwin Maluwa added that the party was
      already preparing a notion to change the constitution, and insisted
      Malawi's electorate should be allowed to democratically decide
      whether they wanted Muluzi for a third term.

      Stambuli declined to comment, but added on Thursday that the
      UDF would soon convene its first national convention in six years
      to "iron out problems that have been dogging us".

      Stambuli declined to specify the problems but senior party
      members told African Eye News Service there was widespread
      dissatisfaction at Muluzi's ousting of former transport minister
      Brown Mpinganjira's from government and the UDF.

      Mpinganjira, who was viewed as a contender for Muluzi's position,
      was axed from cabinet after being charged with criminal complicity
      in a US$2 million tender scam last year.

      He was, however, acquitted by the country's High Court on
      January 16 due to a lack of evidence, and is focusing on building
      his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lobby group against "bad
      governance".

      Mpinganjira claimed on Thursday that he was framed for openly
      opposing attempts to change the constitution, and for criticising
      suggestions that Muluzi be allowed to serve a third term. - African
      Eye News Service

      *****

      Malawi To Axe Telecomm Jobs Amid
      Opposition

      Panafrican News Agency
      1, 3001
      Posted to the web January 30, 2001

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre

      The Malawi Telecommunication Limited (MTL) is expected to fire at
      least 300 workers, in a move MTL officials said is to improve
      efficiency. But critics see it as a bid to purge the organisation of
      sympathisers of sacked senior Minister Brown Mpinganjira, who
      was in charge of the Information, Broadcasting and
      Telecommunications Ministry.

      Chief Executive Emmanuel Mahuka, told journalists in Blantyre the
      downsizing of MTL's 3,000-plus jobs was necessary to improve the
      corporation's efficiency in the face of stiff competition in the
      liberalised telecommunication industry. MTL, a fixed line telephone
      monopoly, has come under fire from customers for failing to
      improve telecommunications in Malawi.

      Some customers say they have been on the waiting list for a line
      for over 10 years. With the coming of two cellular phone
      operators, MTL's monopoly in phone operators has been shaken.
      Mahuka said it was time MTL woke up to the challenge, adding
      that the retrenchment exercise will flush out unqualified
      employees.

      "We are carrying out extensive retrenchment, training and
      recruitment of new blood to beef up the existing staff. The
      retrenchment will be from top to bottom. "The board will assess
      and see if some of us are not suitable to carry out our duties," he
      said. But Mpinganjira, who has since formed a pressure group, the
      National Democratic Alliance (NDA), alleged that government was
      witch-hunting his supporters.

      A government source claimed Mpinganjira brought into the
      corporation dozens of people from his home district of Mulanje.
      But he denied the nepotism charge, saying that most of the
      Mulanje people at MTL are qualified for their jobs and joined the
      corporation long before he became Information Minister. "This is
      just an exercise to (remove) those people seen to be my
      supporters," he claimed. Mpinganjira also alleged that some
      sympathisers attending his circus-like two-week trial in Blantyre
      have been earmarked for dismissal.

      Two young men from Television Malawi, the State-run and only
      television station in the country, have lost their jobs for allegedly
      being seen at the court. A recent memo to MTL staffers warned
      that the management Board would not hesitate to sack anybody
      seen politicking during office hours.
    • 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
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        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.

        Crackdown

        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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