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  • Christine Chumbler
    Maize Shortage Forces Citizens to Eat Worms African Eye News Service (Nelspruit) January 14, 2002 Posted to the web January 14, 2002 Brian Ligomeka Blantyre
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jan 15, 2002
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      Maize Shortage Forces Citizens to Eat Worms

      African Eye News Service (Nelspruit)
      January 14, 2002
      Posted to the web January 14, 2002
      Brian Ligomeka
      Blantyre
      Desperately hungry Malawians, especially in rural areas, have resorted to eating worms because of the critical maize shortage in the country.
      The new diet has exacerbated an outbreak of diarrhoea in the lakeshore district of Nkhota-kota, which was hard-hit by floods two weeks ago.
      "People have nowhere to buy maize and foodstuffs and what else can they do apart from eating pests that destroy the crops?" said the area's traditional leader, Chief Kanyenda.
      Villager Howard Nkhoma said he started eating worms after tiring of a diet of cassava leaves.
      "For three days we have been eating plain boiled cassava leaves," he said.
      "For a change and due to the maize scarcity we wanted to taste something different."
      He said despite the stomach upsets people continued to eat the worms to try ward off starvation.
      A parliamentarian in the district Chimunthu Banda assured that the government would soon bring maize to the area, but he couldn't give a date.
      A rapid food availability assessment conducted in the first half of November last year warned that high maize prices were preventing the majority of Malawians from buying the staple food.
      The assessment was conducted by the World Food Programme, the Malawi government and the European Commission Food Security Programme.
      Maize prices in Malawi have increased dramatically in recent months as maize shortages began to bite.
      Malawi has had to import 150 000 metric tonnes of maize this year from South Africa but the grain has not reached all parts of the country, forcing people to make a meal of wild roots and worms.


      *****

      Blantyre Kicks Out Harare Human Rights Officials

      South African Press Association (Johannesburg)
      January 14, 2002
      Posted to the web January 14, 2002
      Blantyre
      Malawian authorities on Monday deported four senior members of a Zimbabwean human rights organisation just as a regional summit, hosted by Malawi, got underway.
      The four officials of the Zimbabwe Crisis Group, a coalition of about 200 church, labour, student and human rights bodies, said on arrival at Harare airport they had been arrested on Sunday night and declared "prohibited immigrants" for being "a threat to the state of Malawi" before being flown back to Harare.
      Recent events in Zimbabwe were expected to be high on the summit agenda.
      Brian Raftopoulos, chairman of Zimbabwe Crisis, and colleagues Munyaradzi Bidi, Theresa Mugadza and Kumbirai Hodzi flew to Malawi on Sunday in a bid to lobby censure of Mugabe's regime at the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit. The SADC is a 14-nation regional economic bloc.
      The meeting was seen as a chance to bring pressure to bear on Mugabe to end the campaign of alleged political violence by his ruling Zanu(PF) party against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change before the presidential elections in March.
      Mugabe arrived in Blantyre on Saturday to prepare for the SADC summit.
      Raftopoulos said his group arrived on Sunday night at their hotel in the southern city of Blantyre to be told their reservations had been cancelled by the Malawi foreign ministry.
      "We were arrested and interrogated for three or four hours by immigration officials and then by police," he said.
      "They said they were provided with information by diplomatic sources that we were a threat to the state of Malawi.
      "It doesn't take much to guess who the sources were."
      The four spent the night in a cell with 30 other prisoners in the Blantyre central police station.
      "It was a rough night, we were packed like sardines. But police and the other prisoners treated us well."
      On Monday morning they were given deportation orders and flown out immediately.
      Before they left for Blantyre, Zimbabwe Crisis told the Malawi high commissioner in Zimbabwe that they planned to be at the summit. They also met him with a group of other SADC high commissioners and explained the group's position.
      The summit was preceded by a sudden surge in incidents of violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and the passing last week of repressive legislation.
      Western nations have been hoping that the SADC presidents would censure Mugabe, but diplomats said the arrests send a clear message, from Malawi at least, that it supported Zimbabwe's 77-year-old president.
      Malawian president Bakili Muluzi is the current chairman of SADC.
      MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, whose candidacy in the elections poses the biggest threat to Mugabe's 21 years of rule, said on Monday that he expected little from the SADC summit because the organisation was "full of double standards and hypocrisy."
      Interviewed on the BBC, Tsvangirai said: "There is no cohesion in their approach to Zimbabwe."
      SADC leaders were afraid of being accused "of betraying their African brothers."
      "But this is not about being in solidarity about African brothers, its about the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe."
      The MDC expressed "deep concern" over the arrests.
      "We wait to hear the full version of the situation from the Malawian government," a statement said.


      *****

      Neighbours fear
      Zimbabwe contagion

      South Africa's leaders are struggling with a
      paradox.

      Their neighbour, Zimbabwe, is experiencing
      political turmoil as its leader - Robert Mugabe,
      president for more than two decades - faces a
      difficult election in March.

      On the political level, the tradition in the region
      is that internal matters are a country's own
      affairs.

      Added to that, Zimbabwe represents one of
      the front-line states, those who faced down
      apartheid-era South Africa on their southern
      borders and lived to tell the tale.

      Trouble spreads

      But the old custom of support through thick
      and thin is starting to break down, because
      however much Zimbabwe wants to continue
      defining its problems as domestic ones, their
      effects are felt throughout the area.

      So the Southern African Development
      Community (SADC), the 14-member grouping
      now meeting in the Malawian capital Blantyre,
      finds itself in a tough spot.

      After three years of taking land from white
      farmers and redistributing it, Zimbabwe's
      economy is a mess.

      Inflation tops 100% a year, the Zimbabwean
      dollar is tumbling - a problem exacerbated by a
      ludicrously overvalued "official" rate and a
      thriving parallel market - and its output is
      collapsing.

      The last budget, in October, acknowledged
      that three quarters of the citizens of what was
      the breadbasket of the region are now living in
      poverty, while the economy shrank by as much
      as 8% in 2001.

      Inevitably, when this happens to the second
      largest economy in the region after South
      Africa, the knock-on effects are huge.

      One hurts, all hurt

      The country's dearth of foreign currency
      means it cannot pay its bills or import goods
      from its neighbours.

      Malawi's foreign minister, Lilian Patel, is under
      no illusions.

      "To begin with, we are landlocked, and that
      makes us very vulnerable," she said, reflecting
      on Malawi's status as one of the poorest of
      SADC's members.

      "Anything that happens to our neighbours
      happens to us."

      The long tradition of border-crossing to trade
      and look for work also plays its part.

      Malawians in particular work in large numbers in
      Zimbabwe, many of them now in the second or
      third generation.

      But while the farm seizures in Zimbabwe take
      the land from white farmers and give it to
      government supporters, they also eject the
      existing workforce, all of whom are black and
      some of whom are Malawian.

      Some return to Harare, the Zimbabwean
      capital. Others try to go back to Malawi, often
      with little idea where their relatives and roots
      are to be found.

      And meanwhile, the distortion of cross-border
      trade and commerce continues. In Malawi, the
      kwacha is now seriously overvalued against
      the Zimbabwean dollar, encouraging massive
      smuggling, damaging exports and hurting local
      industry.

      No end in sight

      But beyond the "quiet diplomacy" which has
      thus far been the rule - and the admittedly
      exceptional experience of overt criticism which
      Mr Mugabe has so far had to sit through -
      there seems little prospect that the Blantyre
      meeting will produce practical benefits.

      Officially, SADC members believe that
      sanctions - even the smart sanctions
      advocated by opposition leaders on Mr Mugabe
      and his cohorts rather than the country as a
      whole - will hit ordinary Zimbabweans too hard.

      Behind the scenes, the real worry is that any
      further action could trigger a full-scale
      meltdown - which would not only exacerbate
      the knock-on effects, but bring millions of
      economic migrants flooding towards the
      borders.

      *****

      Poverty conference
      opens in Washington

      By David Schepp
      BBC News Online's North America
      business reporter

      A conference on strategies for helping the
      world's poorest countries is set to begin on
      Monday in Washington, DC, amid hopes that
      the 11 September attacks will give the talks
      fresh impetus.

      The confab is jointly sponsored by the
      International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
      World Bank, organisations whose mission is to
      help developing countries through loan
      programmes and other financial assistance.

      IMF director Horst
      Koehler and World Bank
      president James
      Wolfensohn are playing
      host to delegates,
      including 200
      representatives from
      developing countries,
      during the four-day
      meeting.

      Focus on the poor

      "We can no longer
      afford to turn our
      backs on the world's
      poorest," said Mr Wolfensohn in opening
      remarks at IMF headquarters in the US capital.

      Mr Wolfensohn said the devastation caused by
      the 11 September attacks on New York - as
      well as Washington - provide a unique window
      onto the plight of the poor.

      "To those who still believe that we can ignore
      or merely pay lip-service to the plight of 20%
      of the world's population living in direst
      poverty, I say, 'go to Ground Zero'", he said.

      Conference participants as well as World Bank
      and IMF staff will be examining
      poverty-reduction strategies (PRSP), instituted
      two years ago.

      Greater flexibility

      The lending institutions have come under
      heavy criticism in recent years for their
      inflexible approach to assisting poor countries
      during the past few years.

      However, signalling a
      shift in what were
      perceived as rigid
      policies, leaders of five
      African nations have
      said the IMF and the
      World Bank are now
      showing greater
      willingness to adapt
      programmes to
      particular local needs.

      Speaking during the
      world finance
      organisations' spring meetings, Niger's Minister
      of Finance Ali Badjo Gamatie, said: "Things are
      changing, and there is hope."

      Other leaders, however, renewed calls for the
      IMF and World Bank to cancel the debts of
      poor countries crippled by hefty monthly
      servicing costs.

      Source of protest

      It has been the rallying cry and the source of
      protest for many groups who oppose IMF and
      World Bank policies, who are expected to
      demonstrate outside the IMF's headquarters,
      where the meeting is being held.

      But Mr Wolfensohn has said that large-scale
      debt cancellation is not feasible as it would put
      the viability of global lending institutions at
      risk.

      The poverty meeting is the first such
      conference since the 11 September attacks,
      which forced the IMF and World Bank to cancel
      their annual meeting.

      The development committee of the World Bank
      and the IMF, as well as the International
      Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC) of
      the IMF held meetings last November in
      Ottawa, Canada, amid heavy protests.
    • 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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