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  • Christine Chumbler
    IMF Decides Country s Fate Today Daily Times (Blantyre) March 6, 2002 Posted to the web March 6, 2002 Thomas Chafunya Lilongwe THE International Monetary Fund
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 7 6:58 AM
      IMF Decides Country's Fate Today

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      March 6, 2002
      Posted to the web March 6, 2002
      Thomas Chafunya
      Lilongwe
      THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission currently in the country will decide today after two-weeks of make-or-break negotiations with government and other economic stakeholders, senior government officials said yesterday.
      The decision is expected to chart a new course for the economy which faces a serious budget deficit.
      Sources close to the meeting said the results of the meeting were unpredictable as the mission learnt new developments which government never briefed the Fund before the consultations.
      Among the developments, the sources said the IMF mission learnt while in the country the existence of a maize levy being collected on fuel initially designed to purchase relief maize.
      The levy is alledged of being diverted to Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf) coffers for cash-for-work programme.
      "Another point of concern for the IMF was inaccurate information the government gives the Fund, government increased spending regardless of low inflows," the source said.
      Friday Jumbe, Finance and Economic Planning Minister however, said yesterday he was optimistic that the IMF revelation of its findings and recommendations will lead to flowing of aid to Malawi.
      "So far so good," he said and added that " I am not worried of anything unexpected, we hope for positive results unless something significant happens."
      The IMF and the British government are still holding on to Malawi's aid portion until the current decisive talks with IMF reach a mutual agreement.
      During the stay in the country, the seven-man IMF mission led by Alfred Kammer held series of talks with senior government ministers and other senior officials, Reserve Bank officials, the private sector and the civil society.
      Topping the agenda was the current food crisis which has led to derailment of government monetary targets among others although was not primarily on the funds agenda.
      The Fund, the sources said, has expressed concern on the prevailing food crisis which has weighed down the country's macro-economic parameters where inflation rate, although declining, was still far to hit targetted figures as outlined in the 2001/2002 budget.
      The mission leaves the country tomorrow.

      *****

      City Fathers Nabbed in Lilongwe

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      March 6, 2002
      Posted to the web March 6, 2002
      Gabriel Kamlomo
      Lilongwe
      The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has arrested two Lilongwe city councillors as it continues its probe into how Lilongwe City Assembly Mayor Charles Chimdzeka and his deputy Beatrice Baisi were voted into their offices after official allegations to ACB that corruption was involved.
      The arrested councillors: Wilson Malota and John Maganga have since been released on bail after two nights in custody.
      Chimdzeka confirmed the development in a telephone interview with Daily Times yesterday that the two councillors were picked by ACB officials on Wednesday but refused to comment more on the matter.
      "I would love if this information was sought from the Secretariat through the Chief Executive," Chimdzeka said.
      Assembly Chief Executive Donton Mkandawire was, however, reported out on official duty outside the country when his office was contacted.
      According to officials at the assembly, fracas ensued immediately after the arrest of the two when a group of young men invaded the assembly premises demanding the immediate release of the two.
      "They were accusing another councillor; Woman councillor Mwinjilo was actually roughed up. She was accused of betraying fellow councillors," said one official from the Assembly yesterday.
      Sources within the assembly council disclosed to Daily Times that invitations to councillors who were to appear before the ACB came through the office of the Chief Executive, which irked some councillors.
      "The expectation was that the CE would inform the mayor who would in turn inform the concerned individuals. But that was not the arrangement," said one source.
      However another source disputed the claim arguing: "The issue involves the Mayor himself, how could they have passed through him?"
      A questionnaire sent to the ACB yesterday morning yielded no fruits as the director of the bureau and his deputy were reported out in Zomba. However, an ACB official confirmed the arrests to Daily Times.
      Some concerned Malawians lodged a complaint with the ACB alleging that some money corruptly changed hands among Lilongwe City assembly councillors as a result Chimdzeka and Baisi emerged winners in elections for the occupants of offices of Mayor and deputy.
      The ACB recently arrested Chimdzeka and Baisi in the same matter.

      *****

      High Court Frees Treason Suspects

      Daily Times (Blantyre)
      March 6, 2002
      Posted to the web March 6, 2002
      Frank Namangale
      Blantyre
      THE High Court in Blantyre yesterday unconditionally set free the four suspects in the long-running Sulaimana treason case after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) recommended its withdrawal.
      Neither DPP Fahad Assan nor his representative was present in court. His office faxed a charge sheet to the court for the case to resume.

      Judge Edward Twea told the four suspects - Sudi Sulaimana, Colvin Kaumira and two Malawi Army soldiers, Moses Bwanali and Nelson Physontha - that the state, if it so wishes, can reopen the case again and prosecute them on the same charge.
      "But as of now, I discharge you. I also discharge the jury, which was called for this case. You are free people and you can step down, unless if held for other reasons," announced Twea.
      All the accused persons, who have been on remand for a year, remained calm throughout the less-than-10-minute court session and did not even smile as they stepped out of the dock.
      Senior Legal Aid Advocate Reyneck Matemba, representing the two soldiers, said in an interview, "That's the best the DPP has done. I was expecting just that."
      Sulaimana, who said he was not bitter, described the DPP's decision to withdraw the case as wise, noting however that it came late.
      "I'm not surprised that I have been discharged, but I have to reserve my comment," Sulaimana said, smiling before leaving in a heavily guarded police Land Rover.
      The treason case was abandoned by Judge Anaclet Chipeta on November 5 last year when he and two colleagues - Dunstain Mwaungulu and Chimasula-Phiri - were summoned to appear before Parliament on charges of incompetence and misconduct.
      The case had run for a record 24 days with the State parading 15 prosecution witnesses. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leader Brown Mpinganjira, who was placed as first accused by the DPP when he was implicated in the case, did not turn up at the court yesterday.
      Over 200 police officers were deployed at the court and those going into the courthouse, including reporters, had to get permission from the police.
      Armed police restrained the general public from getting too close to the courthouse. The case was being held in open court.
      Sulaimana and the three others were arrested in February last year on allegations that they wanted to topple the government in a coup d'etat.


      *****

      (Sorry, Stacia. These stories are from the BBC.)

      Spectre of starvation in
      Malawi

      By Hilary Andersson
      BBC Southern Africa correspondent

      In Malawi's capital Blantyre people are starving
      to death in hospital. By the time they get
      there, many are too far gone.

      For one little boy, every breath is an effort.
      He's managing to stay alive, just. Disease is
      feeding on his hunger. And he is not alone.

      In the rural areas, it is
      worse. This calamity is
      happening in one of the
      poorest countries on
      earth. There are no
      doctors for miles.

      A few people have
      managed to crawl to a shed for church
      handouts. Some were so weak they fainted on
      arrival.

      One woman has been walking for three days to
      get here carrying her children on her back.
      They are both one-and-a-half years old, but
      weigh a fraction of what they should.

      Many have been
      surviving on nothing
      but wild leaves for
      months and they are
      on the brink of
      starvation. Some
      others have been
      eating pig food to
      survive, but even that
      has now gone. The
      strongest may survive
      this, the others won't.

      Disaster

      Malawi looks lush, but seven million people here
      face starvation - thanks to politics and floods.

      Erratic weather has
      ruined the region's
      crops. The troubles in
      nearby Zimbabwe have
      made matters worse.
      There, the land crisis
      has destroyed food
      production and the
      demand is for food
      imports.

      Now the whole of
      southern Africa is
      short of maize. Even
      food destined for
      Malawi often cannot get through, with vital
      transport routes being disrupted by
      Zimbabwe's crisis.

      Wasting away

      No-one has calculated the scale of what is
      happening here. But what we found in one
      village was frightening. Only a handful people
      live there. Three have died in the last week.

      Kingsley took me to his grandson's grave. He's
      been watching his family starve. They swell up
      as if they'd eaten too much, he told me, then
      they waste away.

      Church groups say in
      this small area, death
      rates are running at a
      staggering 6%.

      If that's true
      nationwide, thousands
      could have starved
      already.

      Back at the hospital, a
      woman has just heard
      the unthinkable. Her
      baby is dead. The
      second to die here in
      an hour.

      It is impossible to bear. And all the more so
      because this tragedy is partly man-made.

      *****

      Southern Africa
      threatened by famine

      People are starving to death across southern
      Africa following years of poor harvests and
      erratic rainfall.

      The food crisis is most severe in Malawi, where
      hundreds of people have reportedly died in
      recent months, while deaths have also been
      reported in Mozambique.

      Zimbabwe has
      promised food aid for
      all the country's
      children after a
      disastrous farming
      season.

      Officials have warned
      that 70% of Malawi's
      10m people are at risk
      of starvation.

      A group of charities
      says more than 300
      people have died of hunger in the last two
      months.

      According to the group, the Malawi Economic
      Justice Network (MEJN), this figure could
      underestimate the total number of deaths.

      Freak weather

      MEJN's director Collins Magalasi, said that
      despite last week's declaration of a national
      disaster and a plea for food aid, remote areas
      have not received any relief.

      The MEJN's statement says some parents are
      trying to sell their children to buy food, while
      other villagers are fighting over the little
      available food.

      It cites one incident
      where a mother and
      her four children were
      poisoned because they
      had some food in their
      household.

      Erratic weather has
      ruined crops across
      southern Africa.

      In Mozambique, spells
      of drought in recent
      years followed by
      flooding have led to
      shortages.

      The food crisis is particularly acute in the
      Machanga district, north of the capital
      Maputo, where 10 people have reportedly died
      of hunger since the beginning of the year.

      National disaster

      The troubles in nearby Zimbabwe have made
      matters worse. There, the land crisis has
      destroyed food production and a country that
      used to export food is now threatened by
      hunger.

      The United Nations World Food Programme
      estimates that 500,000 Zimbabweans face
      serious food shortages.

      As a result of the political crisis there, food
      destined for neighbouring Malawi often cannot
      get through, as transport routes are disrupted.

      President Mugabe has declared the agricultural
      season a national disaster.

      He says the government is launching a
      programme of supplementary feeding for
      children nationwide.

      The government blames the problems on
      drought but the BBC's Grant Ferrett says the
      upheaval caused by two years of illegal land
      seizures is clearly a significant factor.

      *****

      Zimbabwe election rules
      still unclear

      By Grant Ferrett
      On the Zimbabwe border

      Zimbabweans go to the polls on Saturday and
      Sunday to elect a president with many of the
      details still to be revealed.

      Three days before voting, the voters' rolls had
      not been published and the number of ballot
      papers printed was unknown.

      Nor had the authorities officially confirmed the
      location or number of polling stations.


      The main opposition
      Movement for
      Democratic Change -
      whose candidate,
      Morgan Tsvangirai is
      expected to mount a
      strong challenge to
      President Mugabe -
      fears that polling
      stations will be
      reduced in urban
      areas, where it draws
      its main support.

      The Election Support
      Network, which brings
      together nearly 40
      non-governmental
      organisations, is also
      concerned.

      "There can no excuse for leaving publication of
      the election details so late," said the network
      head, Reginald Matchaba-Hove.

      He is particularly troubled that just 300 of the
      network's 12,000 local observers have been
      offered accreditation.

      The government insists that previous elections
      since Zimbabwe became independent 22 years
      ago have been well-organised, and this
      weekend's presidential poll will be no different.

      Details

      "It will be calm, and the result will be positive
      for President Mugabe," said Nathan
      Shamuyarira, information spokesman for the
      ruling party, Zanu-PF.

      Some of the election details are certain:

      Polling will be held over two days, from
      7am to 7pm each day

      There are 5.6 million eligible voters

      There will be 4,500 polling stations

      Voters cast their ballots in whichever of
      the 120 constituencies they are
      registered

      Each party can have one agent at each
      polling station

      Postal ballots are only allowed for some
      government employees (such as
      members of the armed forces, diplomats)

      Party agents may accompany ballot
      boxes between polling stations and
      counting centres, but not in the same
      vehicle

      Counting begins 8am, Monday 11 March

      Results will be announced constituency
      by constituency at election headquarters
      in Harare

      Zimbabwean officials
      are proud of the
      elaborate process of
      securing the ballot
      boxes after voting.

      Each has a wax seal,
      as well as tape which
      is signed by party
      representatives.

      The seals are
      supposed to be
      inspected before being
      opened.

      The opposition says that after months of
      violence, it is not possible to talk of a free and
      fair election.

      Whether the polling procedures will be
      observed will soon become clear.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006

        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.

        *****

        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.

        Crackdown

        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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