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  • Christine Chumbler
    Bubonic Plague Adds To Woes UN Integrated Regional Information Networks May 31, 2002 Posted to the web May 31, 2002 Lilongwe Malawi s existing health
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 31, 2002
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      Bubonic Plague Adds To Woes

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 31, 2002
      Posted to the web May 31, 2002

      Lilongwe

      Malawi's existing health challenges of cholera, malnutrition, malaria and HIV/AIDS have been joined by another - the bubonic plague.

      Seventy one cases of the medieval-sounding disease carried by fleas and rodents have been reported in the far south of the country since April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

      The first victim this year was a nine-year-old girl from Zavedo village. Outbreaks of bubonic plague have occurred in Nsanje district at the southern tip of the country since 1994 with the number of cases peaking at 304 in 1999. There were no reported cases for the two years before April.

      The plague, which has a case fatality ratio of up to 60 percent if left untreated, has also been reported in Mozambique leading to cross-border collaboration between Mozambican and Malawian health teams.

      "WHO is concerned due to the fact that the current epidemic is combined with malnutrition because of the food shortage in the country. It is a well-known fact that prevalence and severity of all infectious diseases increase where malnutrition is rampant," a statement said.

      A World Food Programme (WFP) assessment released this week estimated that 3.2 million Malawians face food shortages due to anticipated food shortages this year. The country is only just recovering from a cholera epidemic which killed over 900 people.

      Malawi's overstretched health services now share the added burden of finding chemicals to spray against fleas and rodents and staff who know how to treat the disease.

      The UN children's agency, UNICEF, and WHO response includes providing cash to districts to buy insecticides for household spraying and sending a consultant to give front line health workers refresher training.


      *****

      Hunger Underlined By Poverty

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 31, 2002
      Posted to the web May 31, 2002

      Lilongwe

      Just one US dollar was all that Yusuf Kwajedwa needed to buy fertiliser so that he could plant a crop this year.

      But, even if he had made the 10 reed mats he needed to barter for the fertiliser, and if his wife Sakina had swapped some firewood for seed, he, like others in Nkhonde village in Malawi's impoverished southern Dedza district, would have been too sick with cholera to plant the crops.

      He was among 33,211 people throughout the country who contracted the water-borne disease. He survived, but by the end of April, 926 people were dead in 10 districts. At least 90 were from Nkhonde and the surrounding villages.

      The story of Yusuf and Sakina and their five children is the story of hundreds of thousands of Malawians. They battled to survive through food shortages that led President Bakili Muluzi to declare a disaster this year. Then a cholera epidemic which made their malnutrition worse, and now a new struggle to access seed and fertilizer.

      But behind it all is their biggest enemy, severe poverty.

      "The reason those people died was because they were hungry and their bodies couldn't withstand cholera," said Sakina breastfeeding their tiny seven-month-old. His stick-thin arms tug at his mother. The older children sit shyly in the doorway, their tummies, like those of the other children in the village, protrude through ragged filthy clothes - a tell-tale sign of malnourishment.

      A neighbour's tiny child, her hair an orange fuzz caused by the related condition of kwashiorkor, sits weakly nearby on the crumbling mud porch. Sakina explained: "We had a problem with food this year because we didn't grow much - my husband was sick."

      To keep her ailing husband and family alive from January to March, she dug up banana roots and pounded them into a flour which she cooked into a porridge. "Things are little better now, but we won't have enough," she said.

      "It was difficult this year because I had no seed, no fertiliser and I was feeling sick," said Yusuf. "Now that I'm better I'm going to the river to get reeds to make sleeping mats and go from village to village to exchange them for food."

      He was referring to the village at the top of the steep footpath. Up there people are better off - they have crops that they irrigate, they didn't eat all their seed out of hunger and some received help from family who have work. It's there that the people of Nkhonde go for odd jobs to raise cash, and it's there that Sakina swapped a bundle of firewood she scavenged off the mountain slopes for about 10 small pumpkins.

      She'll use this for all the family's meals over the next three days. When that runs out she has a few of the prickly-skinned wild cucumbers to fall back on and will search for more wood to barter, or will look for more odd jobs. Luxuries are unheard of in their household.

      According to the Malawi National Human Development report released on Thursday, 65 percent of Malawians are poor and 28 percent are ultra-poor.

      When asked what his wish was, Yusuf said: "I just want to buy some fertiliser so that I can plant."

      Yusuf will struggle to put aside the money to buy the fertilizer he needs because the government no longer subsidises this. His weakened body will also have to walk a long distance out of the valley to a shop to buy it.

      "They have no money at all," said health worker Jennings Balankhondo.

      It is health workers like him who cycle the long dirt road, and the even longer footpath, to reach remote villages like Nkhonde. There he gives health advice and advises who should make the long trip by foot for treatment at a clinic. He doesn't dispense any medicines.

      It is also up to him to report cases of severe malnutrition to the local health centre. This information is passed on and eventually villages like Nkhonde are included in emergency feeding operations.

      Though Yusuf's pride says that his family is coping and that he can provide, the World Food Programme (WFP) has targeted his village for emergency distribution.

      Dr Yusuf Chellouche, World Health Organisation (WHO) Acting Resident Representative in Malawi, said the link between food shortages, malnutrition and cholera - all daily realities for many Malawians - is pernicious.

      "When there are food shortages people's hygiene considerations go down - they are trying to fill their stomachs and will eat anything. They get infected with cholera, then diarrhoea. When they have diarrhoea the body doesn't absorb nutritients and this creates malnutrition. It's a vicious circle.

      "Combined with HIV/AIDS this contributes to excess mortality," Chellouche said.

      A WHO study found that the main causes of the cholera outbreak was that people were forced to eat anything out of hunger, there was poor sanitation, poorly trained health workers, bad case management, inadequate surveillance skills to respond properly and no coordination between the agriculture, water and sanitation sectors.

      Also a shock was the discovery that while families religiously kept drinking water clean and separate, they appeared unaware that they shouldn't wash utensils with unsafe water and place "safe" food and water in unsafe utensils.

      Richard Pendame, Malawi's health secretary shakes his head when asked about mismanagement. He said that with cholera endemic in Malawi since 1973, the health department prepared for it in the same way every year.

      They order drugs to cure it and send out circulars reminding health officials to conduct their awareness campaigns. Last year they expected the usual 3,000 cases in the "hot areas" and planned accordingly along with WHO and the UN children's agency UNICEF.

      "But something was happening to water between where it was collected and where it was stored," said Pendame. "Also, we don't make intravenous fluids here so we had to order them from abroad - everybody was jumping up and down because they couldn't get anything."

      He said Malawi's situation was aggravated by cholera epidemics in Zambia and South Africa. The drug company they ordered from in South Africa was unable to keep up. But the WHO report found that staff were also incorrectly giving the intravenous fluids to most patients instead of the oral rehydration solutions.

      But while the cholera situation may have improved, Malawi's long term food difficulties have not. According to a recent WFP and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) assessment, 3.2 million Malawians are in need of food aid.

      The report said: "A poor harvest in 2000/02, very low levels of stocks of maize, rapidly rising food prices, a generally late start to the planting rains for the 2001/02 season, and a dry spell early in 2002, exacerbated the food crisis in Malawi."

      Malawi's Daily Times reported on Thursday that Agriculture Minister Aleke Banda said the hunger situation was easing with government expecting to get up to 550,000 mt of maize from donors with about 250,00 mt of maize for free distribution to the worst hit areas. But he echoed WFP warnings that the present respite would be short.

      Meanwhile, in Nkhonde village children ran away at the sight of the "faceless man". Every year he comes in his frightening costume to cleanse the graves but this year he was late. Even sacred rituals were delayed because there wasn't enough food to make it complete.


      *****

      Zimbabwe treason case
      postponed

      By Alastair Leithead
      BBC correspondent in Johannesburg

      The leader of the opposition in
      Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, has
      appeared in court with two other
      high-ranking party officials charged with
      treason.

      But the case has again been
      postponed, this time until August.

      Mr Tsvangirai, leader of
      the Movement for
      Democratic Change, and
      colleagues Welshman
      Ncube and Renson Gasela
      have been accused of
      plotting to assassinate
      President Robert Mugabe.

      Walking out of the courtroom, Mr Tsvangirai
      described the five minute hearing as "a circus".

      "I don't know what's going on here," he said.

      He and his co-accused deny charges of treason
      over allegations they plotted to assassinate
      President Mugabe.

      'A set-up'

      They argue they were set up by government
      agents trying to discredit Mr Tsvangirai in the
      lead-up to the March presidential election.

      President Mugabe won
      the election, but the
      result was described as
      severely flawed by the
      international community,
      and rejected by the
      opposition.

      The case has been
      remanded until 2 August,
      after the judge accepted
      the prosecutor's request
      for another delay.

      The state now has three
      months to decide
      whether to indict the men for trial in the High
      Court if convicted they face the death penalty.

      The charges have been condemned by western
      countries as a form of political retribution, an
      accusation the government denies.

      Mr Tsvangirai was released on bail after being
      formally charged with treason in March.

      He was ordered to pay 1.5 million Zimbabwean
      dollars (around $27,000), and surrender deeds to
      property and his passport.

      Commonwealth observers said the presidential
      election in March was marred by a climate of fear
      and violence against opposition supporters.

      As a result Zimbabwe was suspended from the
      Commonwealth for a year.

      *****

      MSF applauds Zimbabwe's plan to fight
      Aids


      The humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF ? Doctors without
      Borders) "fully supports" the emergency plan to fight Aids announced this
      week by Zimbabwe's government, the group said in a statement received on
      Friday in Harare.

      "We can only praise the decision taken May 27 by Zimbabwe's government
      to declare Aids a national emergency," MSF said.

      "Doctors without Borders fully supports this action, which will allow patients
      to have access to generic antiretrovirals, even if they are still protected by a
      patent in that country," it said.

      "This is the first time that government .. has declared its intention to bypass
      patents to improve access to medication when its price is too high," it said.

      The scheme will "considerable reduce the cost of treatment," MSF said.

      On Monday, the government in Zimbabwe declared the next six months an
      emergency period to combat HIV/Aids, allowing the importation and
      manufacture of anti-Aids generic drugs.

      The emergency order, prompted by the rapid spread of HIV among
      Zimbabweans, will allow for the increased availability of drugs to treat the
      disease which is killing about 2 000 people per week in the country.

      Along with neighbouring South Africa, Zimbabwe is one of the countries
      hardest hit by Aids.

      One in every four adults in Zimbabwe is infected with the HIV, the precursor
      to Aids.

      At least 15% of new HIV infections are found among children and it is
      projected that nearly half of all children will be orphaned by HIV/Aids in the
      coming decade.

      Life expectancy dropped from 60 in the 1980s to 39 and experts have
      estimated that it could fall to 27 this decade.

      Aids is expected to bring Zimbabwe's population growth down to zero this
      year. - Sapa-AFP
    • 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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