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  • Christine Chumbler
    Thugs Frighten Diplomats Panafrican News Agency (Dakar) February 9, 2001 Posted to the web February 9, 2001 Raphael Tenthani Blantyre News is just emerging of
    Message 1 of 1046 , Feb 12, 2001
      Thugs Frighten Diplomats

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      February 9, 2001
      Posted to the web February 9, 2001

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre

      News is just emerging of a traumatic experience a South African
      diplomat endured at the hands of thugs in the Malawi capital,
      Lilongwe, Wednesday night causing the diplomatic community in
      Malawi to jack up their security measures.

      Police spokesman Oliver Soko told PANA Friday that four
      heavily-armed thugs broke into the house of Hellen Crous and
      made away with an assortment of property and cash.

      Soko said the thugs, brandishing a rifle and panga knives, waylaid
      the 60-year-old diplomat who works as Third Secretary at the
      South African High Commission in Lilongwe.

      "This is very sad and unacceptable. We want our guests here to
      live without fear for their lives and property," Soko said.

      A still shaken Crous, who lives alone in the upmarket suburb
      known as Area 10 in Lilongwe, said she had just switched off her
      sitting room lights when her guard called and told her that she
      had forgotten to lock up her car.

      "As I was trying to get back into the house, these four men
      surrounded me," she said.

      Crous said the thugs blindfolded her and tied her hands before
      dragging her into one of her rooms where they rummaged her
      boxes.

      Writhing in anger, Crous said the four men tried to rape her but
      she successfully resisted.

      "I am still very angry. I have been robbed, my privacy and dignity
      have been taken away from me," she said.

      Crous, who said she has been a diplomat since 1972, said this
      was the first time she had encountered such a traumatic
      experience.

      The event has caused a dramatic heightening security measures
      around the diplomatic quarters in the capital.

      Soko said his colleagues were now patrolling the area around the
      clock, stopping any suspects for questioning, he said.

      *****

      Bankruptcy May Force Three Leaders Out Of
      Politics

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      February 10, 2001
      Posted to the web February 10, 2001

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre, Malawi

      The political career of three senior Malawian politicians, including
      the embattled opposition leader Gwanda Chakuamba, is hanging
      in the balance following debts that have remained unserviced for
      a long time

      Lawyers for Finance Bank of Malawi (FBM), Chagwanjira and
      Company, Saturday published bankruptcy notices against
      Chakuamba, secretary general of the ruling United Democratic
      Front (UDF) Willie Katenga Kaunda and a UDF parliamentarian
      Andrew Chiwoza.

      The three risk losing their political jobs if they do not service huge
      debts they owed a bank, according to a legal expert.

      According to the law, a person who has been declared bankrupt
      cannot hold a political office for seven years.

      The three owe the bank millions of kwacha which, according to the
      notices, they have been failing to service for over five years.

      FBM said that Chakuamba was failing to pay back over four
      million kwacha (about to 50,000 US dollars) which has since
      accumulated to over 10 million kwacha (135,000 dollars) in
      interest.

      Katenga Kaunda owed the bank over 270,000 kwacha (3,000 US
      dollars) which, with interest, has accumulated to over two million
      kwacha (about 25,000 US dollars), FBM said.

      Chiwoza owed the bank over 194,000 kwacha, it added.

      The bank went to court to force the politicians to pay the debts.
      The court has since given them 21 days from Saturday to pay
      back the loans or risk being declared bankrupt.

      This is an unwelcome inconvenience, especially to Chakuamba
      who is trying to thwart political ambitions of his powerful but restive
      deputy John Tembo.

      Tembo took over Chakuamba's leadership in Parliament through
      a revolt by over half of the opposition Malawi Congress Party's
      MPs who said they did not want Chakuamba as their leader.

      *****

      Journalists May Be Jailed For Court Contempt

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      February 10, 2001
      Posted to the web February 10, 2001

      Blantyre, Malawi

      Two senior journalists and the board chairman of Malawi's oldest
      newspaper group may be jailed on Monday if the High Court
      upholds an affidavit from a sacked senior politician.

      The High Court will on Monday hear an application by erstwhile
      finance minister Cassim Chilumpha, asking for the conviction of
      Blantyre Newspapers chief reporter Limbani Moya, its
      editor-in-chief, Mike Kamwendo, and the group's board member
      Felix Sakyi for "acting in contempt of court" by continuing to
      publish stories alleging that Chilumpha was corrupt despite a
      court injunction.

      Chilumpha was fired from government after official reports named
      him twice in two separate corruption scandals.

      Although no reasons were given for his dismissal, a media furore
      linked him to two bribery and misappropriation scandals since his
      name was prominently featured in both.

      Chilumpha, however, went to court to seek an injunction granted
      on 8 January restraining the press, particularly the Daily Times,
      from writing any story implying that he was corrupt.

      Chilumpha accused the daily of having a personal vendetta
      against him.

      Nonetheless, during a parliamentary sitting the issue indirectly
      came up with Chilumpha being given a chance to defend himself
      against criticism from the House's committee on Public Accounts.

      It was Moya's account of the confrontation in Parliament that
      incensed Chilumpha into further court action.

      Moya, who says he only wrote what transpired in Parliament
      without any insinuations about Chilumpha being corrupt, reckoned
      it would amount to condoning a restriction on press freedom, if the
      court granted the latter's application.

      "Chilumpha should not use the courts to gag us," he said.

      *****

      Judges Targeted in Zimbabwe

      By Angus Shaw
      Associated Press Writer
      Saturday, Feb. 10, 2001; 12:15 p.m. EST

      HARARE, Zimbabwe ** A government offensive against the independent
      judiciary, the opposition and the media has intensified, with the justice
      minister telling two Supreme Court judges to quit or face possible violence.

      Moreover, the government said it was pushing for the resignations of all the
      remaining Supreme Court judges, who have repeatedly ruled against
      President Robert Mugabe.

      Judge Nick McNally said Friday that Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa
      had already asked that he and Judge Ahmed Ibrahim resign.

      "We were told very nicely and politely we should take our leave and go,
      otherwise anything could happen. They didn't want me to come to any
      harm," McNally said.

      McNally, who is white, said he would not quit. Ibrahim, who is of Asian
      descent, could not be reached for comment.

      Mugabe has accused the nation's judiciary of bias toward Zimbabwe's white
      minority, more than 20 years after blacks overthrew the oppressive,
      white-minority government.

      On Feb. 2, Anthony Gubbay, the white chief justice of the five-member
      Supreme Court, was forced into agreeing to retire at the end of February
      after being told the government could not guarantee his safety in the wake
      of threats from ruling party militants.

      The court's other two judges are black.

      The court repeatedly has infuriated the government by ruling against its
      program of seizing white-owned farmland without paying compensation, and
      of ordering police to remove black squatters from the hundreds of white
      farms they have occupied for the past year.

      The court further enraged officials last month by overturning a presidential
      decree banning opposition lawsuits over disputed results from June
      parliamentary elections.

      That ruling opened the way for the main opposition Movement for
      Democratic Change to contest 38 of the 120 elected parliamentary seats. If
      the opposition party captures half the contested seats, it would seize control
      of Parliament, displacing the ruling party for the first time since
      independence in 1980.

      The government was also planning to ask for the resignations of the two
      remaining Supreme Court justices, who are black, Information Minister
      Jonathan Moyo was quoted as saying Saturday in the state-controlled
      newspaper, The Herald.

      The moves came after a week of stepped-up pressure from the government
      against judges, reporters and opposition parliamentarians.

      Hundreds of armed riot police forced journalists to abandon a protest Feb. 3
      against both the intimidation of the independent media and an anonymous
      bomb attack that damaged the press of the Daily News, a newspaper the
      government had accused of bias toward the opposition.

      Also this week, MDC deputy leader Gibson Sibanda and youth wing head
      Nelson Chamisa were charged with inciting violence and released on bail.

      Though political violence over the past year that has killed 32 people and left
      thousands homeless has mainly been blamed on ruling party militants, none
      of their leaders has been charged with incitement.

      "It is an impossible situation for anyone who has respect and belief in the
      law," said Lovemore Madhuku, a constitutional lawyer at the University of
      Zimbabwe.

      In recent months, as the government has harshly criticized the nation's top
      judges, ruling party militants have threatened to kill several of them.

      Hundreds of militants stormed the Supreme Court in Harare on Nov. 24,
      disrupting a hearing on land seizures. No one was arrested.

      The government said Thursday it will ignore the latest of six court orders
      demanding police remove squatters from white farms.

      Several judges have privately criticized the justice minister for bias against
      them and have said they fear for the safety of their families.

      *****

      Zimbabwe's descent into
      violence

      Mugabe: "Fanning the flames"
      By Grant Ferrett in Harare

      Coming to Zimbabwe in September 1998
      showed a remarkable lack of judgement. I
      envisaged a fairly quiet life in a well-organised,
      reasonably prosperous country.

      Everyone kept reminding me that this was
      "Africa for Beginners", not like the majority of
      other war-torn, corrupt or impoverished states
      which litter sub-Saharan Africa.

      Zimbabwe's descent began just before my
      arrival, with President Mugabe's decision to
      send more than 10,000 troops to the
      Democratic Republic of Congo, in support of
      the late president Laurent Kabila.

      It is a war which has helped to destroy the
      economy here and fatally undermine support
      for Mr Mugabe.

      The government's
      panicked response in
      the run-up to last
      year's elections was to
      attempt to divert
      attention by playing up
      the already highly
      contentious land issue,
      while simultaneously
      unleashing a campaign
      of violence against the
      increasingly popular
      opposition.

      Playing with fire

      Last April I attended a ruling party rally at
      which President Mugabe, dressed army-style in
      olive green, warned the opposition leader,
      Morgan Tsvangirai, that he was playing with
      fire.

      "Let him not start the fire which may engulf
      him!" said Mr Mugabe, to cheers of approval. A
      week later, the police stood and watched as
      government supporters blocked the path of Mr
      Tsvangirai's campaign manager, Tichaona
      Chiminya.

      The crowd beat Mr Chiminya unconscious
      before pouring petrol over him and setting him
      alight. He was one of the more than 30 people
      killed during the election campaign, nearly all of
      them from the opposition.

      It is, of course, Mr Mugabe and his government
      which started the fire and are still busily
      fanning the flames. In a desperate attempt to
      stay in power, apparently unable to imagine a
      Zimbabwe without it in charge, the ruling party
      haz resorted to intimidation on a national
      scale.

      War Veterans' campaign

      The War Veterans Association has, it seems,
      been given a free hand to do whatever is
      necessary to keep the opposition at bay.

      Occupying
      white-owned farms and
      attacking the farmers
      and their workers is
      now so routine that it
      goes largely
      unreported. A more
      novel war veteran
      tactic is to take over
      the offices of local
      authorities they believe
      to be anti-government.

      Civil servants and
      teachers are viewed
      with particular suspicion, mainly because they
      are well-educated. The police response is
      usually to do nothing - this, they explain, is
      political. The lunatics have taken over the
      asylum.

      My most vivid image of my time here is of the
      war veteran leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi, leaning
      from the passenger window of a truck,
      wild-eyed and screaming.

      He was trying to persuade the driver of my car
      to pull over. This was in the middle of a
      by-election campaign which, even by
      Zimbabwe's standards, was remarkably violent.

      Opposition members of parliament said Mr
      Hunzvi had personally thrown a petrol bomb at
      them as they attempted to campaign.

      Given that, we declined his invitation to stop,
      and instead performed a hasty U-turn, neatly
      avoiding another truckload of jeering
      government supporters in the process. It was
      all a little too close for comfort.

      Fear and secrecy

      Almost as
      uncomfortable was a
      telephone interview
      with the Information
      Minister, Jonathan
      Moyo, two days after
      the bombing of the
      printing presses of the
      Daily News newspaper.

      I asked if the
      government intended
      to abide by the latest
      Supreme Court
      judgement - as usual,
      the court had ruled against President Mugabe.

      The minister tends simply to hang up when he
      hears my name, but this time he launched into
      a tirade against the BBC in general and me in
      particular. His final shouted words were, "You
      should be more careful!"

      Dire consequences

      The consequences of President Mugabe's
      decision to abandon the rule of law are obvious
      - car-jackings and other armed robberies are
      now routine.

      Far more serious, though, is the collapse of the
      economy, which contracted by four per cent
      last year, and will continue to shrink.

      It's no longer a question of whether Zimbabwe
      will suffer food shortages this year, but how
      severe they will be - and this in a country
      which traditionally exports food.

      The government's cynical attempts to
      undermine race relations are equally
      depressing.

      Yes, the fire is well and truly raging, and could
      well engulf Mr Mugabe along with everybody
      else.
    • 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.

        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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