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  • Christine Chumbler
    Consumer Association Declares National Passports a Luxury The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe) June 29, 2001 Posted to the web July 2, 2001 Mallick Mnela The
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jul 3, 2001
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      Consumer Association Declares National
      Passports 'a Luxury'

      The Chronicle Newspaper
      (Lilongwe)
      June 29, 2001
      Posted to the web July 2, 2001

      Mallick Mnela

      The Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) has described
      the possible passport fee hike from K2,000 to K8,000 as
      unimportant and *a luxury'. The vocal, Executive Director of
      the consumer rights body, CAMA John Kapito, in a telephone
      interview with The Chronicle said that a passport is a luxury that
      one can do without and can only be possessed by a person
      with excess money. 'Why do you talk about the price of a
      passport. There are a lot of things that are out of poor peoples'
      reach such as drugs and food,' he justified adding, 'a passport
      is a luxury, it is only used by people with excess money. It is
      more like a bottle of beer which can sell at an exorbitant price in
      hotels but still people will buy it.'

      Senior officials at the Immigration Department are reported to
      be in disagreement over the issue of increasing the fee.
      However, Immigration Public Relations Officer Hudson
      Mankhwala told the local press that the fee will be hiked
      upwards but not as high as is being suggested. Mankhwala
      said the hike would depend on the cost of the equipment which
      has to be acquired from the United States of America (USA) for
      producing the new fraud-proof passports. 'The development
      has come about to check rampant forgery especially by
      foreigners. These passports will be computerised with features
      that will be difficult to replicate,' he was quoted as having said.

      However, a prominent Lilongwe-based journalist has described
      CAMA's stand on the passport fee hike as reckless. 'For
      Nigerians or any other foreigners to get a Malawian passport is
      indeed a luxury, but when a Malawian gets one it is a right.

      Section 39 clearly provides for free movement where every
      person shall have the right to leave the Republic and to return
      to it. 'If a person, because of the cost factor fails to obtain a
      relevant travelling document, it is a clear testimony that the
      constitution is not being respected ,'he said. Another
      concerned citizen, Francis Ziwoya indicated that while
      acknowledging that a passport is a luxury, the role played by
      CAMA in protecting consumer rights should not be limited. He
      says that there are some other luxuries that enable people to
      acquire basic needs.

      'If a passport is a luxury status and is likened to that of beer
      then the consumers' watch-dog is not helping us. Most
      Malawians live below the line of poverty and this should be
      taken into consideration when setting prices,' Ziwoya said,
      further explaining that without this essential document, one
      could be hindered from going abroad for business or for further
      studies.

      *****

      Police Harass AFORD President's Bodyguard

      The Chronicle Newspaper
      (Lilongwe)
      June 29, 2001
      Posted to the web July 2, 2001

      Pushpa Jamieson

      There was drama last week at the House of Parliament when
      the police picked up the personal body guard of the President
      of the Alliance for Democracy (AFORD) Chakufwa Chihana.
      The minder, Bangubosa Mwahimba was approached by the
      police as he accompanied his employer to the New State
      House. According to Mwahimba, he had come out of the
      Parliamentary session to organise the vehicle for the AFORD
      President when he was approached by a police officer who
      asked him ' Uma yenda ndi ndani?' (Who do you move with?)
      'Uma yenda ndi chiyani?' (What do you have with you when you
      travel?) 'I told them that I am a bodyguard to the AFORD
      President, that was all' Mwahimba said the police officer then
      asked him, ' Why are you answering me like that? You people
      from Karonga all answer like that!' he declared. The visibly
      disturbed Mwahimba said the officer continued to harangue him
      saying: 'I will deal with you. Do you know who I am? I am
      Machupa, if you hear someone called Machupa, it is me,' the
      officer declared without waiting for an answer. 'I was surprised
      and frightened by this and I saw two Land Rovers and the
      Police Mobile Force in full gear,' Mwahimba said adding that he
      was then told that he was to accompany the police officers to
      his house in Area 25. He was then escorted to the police
      vehicle and they left Parliament accompanied by several police
      officers. The officers said they had reason to believe that he
      had arms and ammunition hidden in his house in area 25.
      Mwahimba said the police went through his house from room to
      room but the search conducted did not turn up any firearms or
      ammunition. They thereafter asked him to make a statement.
      When asked to confirm the incident, Police spokesperson,
      Oliver Soko said Mwahimba had indeed been taken from
      Parliament building. 'Yes, it is true. We took him away to search
      his house after we had received a tip from a concerned citizen
      that the bodyguard was keeping some firearms at his
      residence.' Soko said. Mwahimba said that he was considering
      making a formal complaint to the relevant authorities as this
      incident was the second time that police had done this. He felt
      he was being deliberately targeted and harassed by the police
      with no just cause.

      *****

      Gwanda Summons MCP Executive

      The Chronicle Newspaper
      (Lilongwe)
      June 29, 2001
      Posted to the web July 2, 2001

      Wisdom Chimgwede

      The beleaguered Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President
      Gwanda Chakuamba has summoned all MCP members of the
      National Executive Committee (NEC) to an indaba at party
      headquarters at City Centre in the Capital Lilongwe this Friday,
      June 29th 2001. The letters of invitation were sent out a week
      ago. However, despite the important matters indicated on the
      agenda, members of the Vice President, John Tembo's faction
      seem unwilling to participate. They even refused to disclose to
      The Chronicle whether they have or haven't received their
      invitation letters penned by their President himself. Confirming
      the matter in an interview, Chakuamba said high on the agenda
      was a need to consider the Malawi Supreme Court judgement
      that nullified the August 6, 2000 parallel conventions, one that
      re-elected him (Chakuamba) as party president in Blantyre and
      the one that elevated Tembo to the party's supreme position in
      Lilongwe. 'We can not think of having another convention now.
      We must first meet as the NEC of the party. This is the
      committee charged with arranging everything,' said
      Chakuamba. He said he hoped that everybody will attend the
      meeting scheduled for 2 pm after Parliament adjourns on
      Friday 29th. The meeting will also decide the fate of the newly
      appointed MCP shadow cabinet announced recently by John
      Tembo, as leader of opposition in parliament. Apart from
      dismantling the MCP cabinet and assembling a new all
      anti-Chakuamba cabinet, John Tembo has also changed the
      MCP sitting plan in parliament pushing his main protagonists far
      away from him and bringing closer to him MPs that toe his
      particular loyalty line. Louis Chimango, MCP National Elections
      Chair who has for so long preferred to take a low profile in the
      MCP wrangle was brought closer to Tembo. This is the first
      indication of the stance that he has deliberately taken from the
      August 6, 2000 conventions. Although he was in Lilongwe at
      the time he absented himself from the Tembo convention. In an
      interview to determine whether or not he would attend the
      meeting called by Chakuamba he indicated that he had not
      received the letter, at least as of Thursday last week. 'I don't
      know anything. Maybe it will come later,' he said. Chimango
      refused to comment on whether or not he will be present at the
      meeting, the very first of its kind after the two conventions were
      held. Peter Chiona MCP Second Vice President who chaired
      the Pro-Tembo convention, refused to reveal if he was in
      receipt of the letter saying it was premature for him to respond.
      The Supreme Court ruling on June 4, 2001 indicated that
      Chiona, was supposed to have been arrested for disobeying
      the court's decision when the Lilongwe convention went ahead
      despite officials being served with an injunction restraining
      them from undertaking such a meeting. The court found that
      the dissolution of the MCP NEC by the Lilongwe convention to
      suit the Tembo faction was contrary to the MCP constitution
      and therefore legally invalid. John Tembo's Dedza home-mate,
      Kate Kainja, the party's Secretary General remained mum
      despite efforts to get her to comment on the matter. Former
      Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chair, Situsi
      Nkhoma who was removed by Tembo because he was accused
      of being a Chakuamba loyalist said he is worried that the
      Tembo faction seems to disregard the letter of the law in most
      of their activities, even after the Supreme Court ruling. Other
      MPS, not on the NEC are, however divided with some saying
      they don't see any hope for the two factions meeting in one
      convention while others hope time will come when the two
      leaders will have to swallow their pride. Nasser Kara from Dowa
      East says he has no doubt that one day the two heavy weights
      will meet and decide on an appropriate way forward for the
      party. Binton Kutsaila said he was not sure that the two will
      meet but indicated there was no need for that as Tembo is
      already the legitimate MCP president. Kizito Ngwembe,
      Kasungu South East MP, Kasungu Central MP Carrington Jimu
      and Kasungu West MP Silesi Gulule said they don't see any
      possibility for the two meeting at one venue. However, the party
      president still has hope that one day the two will dine together
      as the forthcoming meeting will have to discuss the party's
      future. He said he is arranging with the police to provide
      security so that people can be free to speak their minds without
      fear. The power struggle in MCP started in 1999 soon after the
      convention that took place in Mzuzu at the instigation of the
      vice president who was seeking a mandate from the people to
      run as presidential candidate in the 1999 Presidential elections.
      This was the second convention after the death of former
      leader Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The first was at Natural
      Resources College in Lilongwe where Tembo challenged
      Chakuamba and the latter won the contest. Chakuamba
      retained his seat as leader of the MCP at both conventions.
      Tembo has since tried to oust him with little success.

      *****

      Strike Takes Hold in Zimbabwe

      By Angus Shaw
      Associated Press Writer
      Tuesday, July 3, 2001; 8:50 a.m. EDT

      HARARE, Zimbabwe ** Shops and banks were closed across Zimbabwe
      as workers went on strike Tuesday to protest economic mismanagement
      and a rise in fuel prices. Labor leaders said the strike shut down
      three-quarters of Zimbabwe's economy.

      Most shops were closed in the capital, Harare. Only a trickle of workers
      showed up at factories in the industrial district south of the city center, and
      parking lots were nearly empty.

      The western city of Bulawayo was almost completely shut down by noon.

      "It is going according to plan. By tomorrow, 99 percent of the country will
      have stopped work," said Lovemore Matombo, head of the Zimbabwe
      Congress of Trade Unions, which called the two-day strike.

      "We are satisfied most workers are heeding our call to stay indoors to avoid
      violence," he said.

      The main labor federation called the strike to protest a 70 percent rise in
      gasoline prices imposed by the government June 12, a hike that has fueled
      inflation during Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis.

      Matombo said the government repeatedly ignored the worsening plight of
      workers.

      "It is they, not us, who have created inflation and large scale unemployment
      through mismanagement and corruption. We are withdrawing our labor for
      two days as the only resort we have to make them listen," he said.

      The government accused the labor federation of economic sabotage in
      calling the strike, declaring it illegal. Government offices and schools were
      ordered to remain open.

      "It is not a school holiday and all pupils are supposed to go to school,"
      Education Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi said, according to state radio.

      The government had said it would deploy buses to carry people to work and
      would cancel the licenses of private transport operators supporting the
      strike.

      But few buses of the state-owned Zimbabwe United Omnibus Company
      were seen carrying commuters. About 30 buses at one of the company's
      yards were off the road because of a shortage of spare parts.

      State radio, in its morning bulletins, reported commuter traffic from the
      massive township of Chitungwiza, south of Harare, down by 60 percent but
      said it later "returned to normal."

      There were no immediate reports of clashes between police and strikers. A
      military helicopter crossed above Harare's city center Tuesday morning, and
      police were deployed at township shopping centers to prevent looting.

      Police were on special alert and were searching vehicles for weapons or
      "offensive objects," spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said.

      Witnesses said strikers had begun assembling makeshift barricades on roads
      near Chitungwiza.

      Zimbabwe's economic crisis has pushed unemployment above 60 percent
      and inflation to more than 70 percent. An estimated 70 percent of
      Zimbabwe's 12.5 million people live in poverty.

      Previous national work stoppages organized by the labor federation have
      shut down the economy. A series of strikes in 1998 erupted in rioting. Eight
      people were killed in clashes with police and troops.

      The federation represents 90 percent of organized labor, about 1.2 million
      workers in 32 affiliated labor unions.
    • 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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