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  • Christine Chumbler
    Problems With the Donors UN Integrated Regional Information Networks March 1, 2002 Posted to the web March 1, 2002 An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 1, 2002
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      Problems With the Donors

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
      March 1, 2002
      Posted to the web March 1, 2002
      An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission met the Malawian government this week to discuss the country's deepening economic problems. Earlier this year, Britain suspended aid to the southern African country citing government over-expenditure and the lack of fiscal discipline.
      The British government reiterated in Lilongwe last week that it would continue to withhold at least US $18.6 million until the IMF approved the country's macro-economic policy.
      British Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng said that despite the British government's commitment to development aid, a number of areas needed to be clarified to ensure that funds are delivered to the people in need. Britain is the country's largest single donor of development aid.
      "We want Malawi to be back on track on macro-economic targets. We have to be satisfied with the mechanisms in place for sufficient control of budget expenditure which will benefit the poor," Boateng told a news conference.
      Malawi's new Finance Minister, Friday Jumbe recently conceded that the national budget was off-track with a ballooning US $45 million deficit. Jumbe attributed the deficit to weak revenue, overspending and rising inflation rates.
      Jumbe, however, encouraged donors to stick to their aid pledges and go beyond the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) programme.
      "It is our plea that donors must behave practically. Yes, they are willing to make the pledges, but their promises to the poor must be fulfilled, otherwise if we see trickles, like we have seen, then we will not get anywhere," said Jumbe
      The HIPC scheme is designed to help the poorest, most heavily indebted countries escape from unsustainable debt by building the policy and institutional foundations for development and poverty reduction.
      Relations between Malawi and Britain soured last year when the Malawian government purchased 39 new luxury vehicles for cabinet ministers. Britain, who forced the Malawian government to resell the vehicles accused the government of misusing development aid.
      The Malawi government maintained that the vehicles were purchased to replace an old fleet which has become too expensive to maintain.
      The British-Malawian debacle was followed by a diplomatic row with Denmark earlier this year. Denmark announced in January the withdrawal of aid to Malawi citing corruption, political intolerance and judicial interference.
      "In Malawi political developments continue to move in a negative direction and for this reason both development and environmental assistance will be radically reduced in 2002 and finally phased out in 2003," read a statement issued by the Royal Danish Embassy in Malawi.
      The Danish government, through its development agency, DANIDA has since 1997 been assisting Malawi in the areas of health, education, governance, economy and environment to the tune of US $27.8m in annual grants.
      However, the Malawi government has defiantly said that Denmark is withdrawing its aid to Malawi because of its economic difficulties at home.
      But local commentators have attributed the withdrawal of aid to Malawi to a diplomatic row that ensued between Malawi and Denmark after Lilongwe threw a Danish ambassador out of the country late last year.
      "The decision by Denmark will affect us drastically. I think the decision was taken out of anger. The action would bring a dark hour for the non-governmental organisations in Malawi. Denmark was one of the most reliable donors to the NGOs in this country," Ted Nandolo, Executive Director of the NGO Council in Malawi was quoted as saying.
      Denmark has also taken similar action against Eritrea and Zimbabwe owing to suppression of the opposition and media in the two countries, while Burkina Faso, Uganda, Kenya and Egypt have met a similar fate due to alleged human rights abuses.
      Recent debt sustainability analysis estimate Malawi's external debt at US $2.6 billion.
      Official figures indicate that about 65 percent of 11 million Malawians live below the poverty line. A UNDP 2001 Human Development Index ranked Malawi 74 out of 90 countries on a human poverty index.


      Mugabe tells Britain: 'Go
      to hell'

      Continuing the war of words with Britain,
      President Robert Mugabe has accused
      Zimbabwe's former colonial power of supporting
      the opposition in next week's election.

      Mr Mugabe told
      supporters at a rally in
      eastern Zimbabwe that
      UK Prime Minister Tony
      Blair had shown bias
      towards the opposition
      in comments to the UK

      On Wednesday, Mr Blair said the actions of Mr
      Mugabe were "completely undemocratic and
      wrong and dictatorial".

      Britain and other countries have accused the
      Zimbabwean president of using intimidation and
      violence to secure his re-election.

      Homes destroyed

      Mr Mugabe said Mr Blair could "go to hell",
      adding: "It's not the right or responsibility of
      the British to decide on our elections."

      The speech comes amid rising tensions in

      On Friday, suspected
      supporters of Mr
      Mugabe's Zanu PF
      party destroyed 10
      homes, accusing the
      owners of supporters
      of backing the
      opposition Movement
      for Democratic Change

      Earlier this week police
      detained 30 MDC
      supporters in a raid in
      the capital, Harare.

      The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, poses the
      greatest challenge to Mr Mugabe's 22-year

      Plot allegations

      In a related development, Zimbabwe's Supreme
      Court upheld new election rules, which the
      MDC says will deprive hundreds-of-thousands
      of people of their votes in the presidential

      The government created 120 constituencies,
      overturning traditional election rules that
      allowed voters to cast their votes anywhere in
      the country.

      The MDC says this will make voting impossible
      for people driven from their homes by Zanu-PF

      In another earlier ruling on Wednesday, the
      Supreme Court threw out a law, signed by Mr
      Mugabe, which his opponents said aimed to
      boost his election chances.

      It stipulated that only
      observers accredited by
      the government could
      monitor the poll, and
      prevented foreign aid
      being used for voter
      education programmes.

      Mr Tsvangirai has
      started legal action against an Australian
      television station after it broadcast allegations
      that he plotted to kill President Robert

      The state-owned media in Zimbabwe seized on
      the footage and broadcast it repeatedly.

      'Lawful opposition'

      A spokesman for Mr Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti,
      said the allegations in the film were false, and
      that the SBS television station had been
      "duped" by Mr Mugabe's supporters. He said
      the Movement for
      Democratic Change
      was pursuing legal
      action "to vindicate
      our name and to
      vindicate the truth".

      "We are a lawful and
      loyal opposition in
      Zimbabwe, and there
      is absolutely no way
      that ourselves as a
      party or our leadership
      would ever
      contemplate... these
      sort of heinous allegations that have been
      made in those tapes," the spokesman said.

      Two weeks ago, SBS broadcast video footage
      of a secretly filmed meeting which allegedly
      showed Mr Tsvangirai discussing "eliminating"
      Mr Mugabe.

      The allegations and subsequent police action
      were condemned by the United States, Britain
      and human rights groups as a ploy to influence
      the elections and cement Mr Mugabe's rule.


      Commonwealth seals
      Zimbabwe plans

      Commonwealth foreign ministers meeting in
      Australia have finalised what action to take
      against Zimbabwe after months of mounting
      political violence.

      But a decision on whether to suspend
      Zimbabwe is unlikely to be taken before the
      country's presidential elections on 9-10 March.

      The Commonwealth
      Ministerial Action Group
      released no details of
      the report it will submit
      to the full heads of
      government summit,
      which begins in the
      resort of Coolum near
      Brisbane on Saturday.

      President Robert Mugabe's government is
      accused of breaches of democratic rule and
      intimidation during the election campaign.

      Britain wants Zimbabwe to be immediately
      expelled from the Commonwealth - a move
      opposed by a majority of the eight-member
      action group.

      The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is pressing
      for a strongly-worded statement by
      Commonwealth ministers.

      "All the countries concerned believe in the
      principle of fair elections," Mr Blair told the
      BBC. "The statement will strongly condemn the
      violence in Zimbabwe."

      "I think it's abundantly clear that if there were
      free and fair elections the opposition would
      win," Mr Blair added.

      Secretary General Don
      McKinnon said the
      situation in Zimbabwe
      was "deteriorating".

      "Certainly there is
      evidence from a
      number of international
      organisations that it is
      much more
      uncomfortable there
      than it was during the
      June 2000 elections."

      BBC diplomatic
      correspondent Barnaby Mason says the most
      likely outcome will be a recommendation that
      ministers be given power to act quickly against
      Zimbabwe if necessary after the election.

      The ballot presents Mr Mugabe with the
      sternest test of his political life.

      Tight security

      More than 1,200 delegates have arrived in
      Coolum for the summit, which is being held
      amid unprecedented security.

      On the ground, more than 4,000 police and
      troops are guarding the conference centre and
      manning checkpoints at the airport and all
      major roads around the tiny resort.

      High above the conference, F-18 fighter jets,
      carrying air-to-air missiles, are on constant

      The BBC's Red Harrison in Coolum says they
      are the first fully-armed combat missions to be
      flown in Australia since World War II.

      The jets are supported by early warning
      surveillance aircraft, and have orders to shoot
      down and destroy any aircraft approaching the
      area without permission.

      Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill denies
      delegates face any specific threat.

      But he says this is the biggest meeting of
      world leaders in Australia for years and a
      security blanket of this magnitude has become
      the norm for such events since the 11
      September attacks.


      Zambia sees lower

      Zambia's finance minister, Emmanuel Kasonde,
      painted a mixed picture of the country's
      economic prospects in his budget speech to

      He predicted economic growth would shrink,
      but so too would the budget deficit and

      Warning of food shortages, he set aside 48
      billion kwacha ($11.4m) for maize purchases
      later in the year.

      Mr Kasonde did not make any provisions to
      support the country's major mineral producer,
      Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) after April, when
      its parent firm Anglo American plans to pull the
      plug on funding.


      The finance minister predicted this year's
      budget deficit would be 3%, down from 4.7%
      in 2001.

      "We are determined to reduce the deficit", he
      pledged. Money from foreign donors had
      trimmed last year's deficit to 4.7% from the
      original forecast of 8%, according to official

      Real economic growth would be slightly lower
      this year at 4%, after reaching 5.2% last year,
      he told parliament.

      The growth forecasts assume a recovery for
      agriculture and ongoing expansion of tourism,
      Mr Kasonde said.

      Inflation is forecast to drop to 13% in 2002
      from 18.7% last year, and to dive below 10%
      from 2003 onwards.

      Maize crisis

      Crop failure has led to a severe shortage of
      Zambia's staple food, maize.

      Mr Kasonde created a Crop Marketing Authority
      to buy maize and build up strategic reserves.

      Other measures included contracting big
      farmers to grow maize and providing fertilisers
      for smallholders.

      Bad weather and lack of fertilisers has hurt the
      current year's maize crop, and output in the
      2000/2001 growing season was just over half
      the 700,000 tonnes the country needs,
      analysts say.

      Tax cuts for miners

      Turning to the mining sector, Mr Kasonde said
      he retained the option to return to parliament
      if the three mines run by KCM needed a cash

      In a boost for small mining firms, he cut the
      sector's corporate income tax by 10% to 35%
      and removed a range of other taxes.

      The cut brings the rate down the preferential
      level already enjoyed by Zambia's two biggest
      mining projects, KCM and Mopani, a venture
      between Canada's First Quantum and
      Switzerland's Glencore.

      Foreign debt grew to $7.2bn last year from
      $6.3bn in 2000 after foreign lenders failed to
      deliver promised debt relief, Mr Kasonde said.
    • 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 8:06 AM
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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.


        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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