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  • Christine Chumbler
    Acrimony surrounds Muluzi s re-election About 50 opposition supporters in Malawi went into hiding following clashes with militant youths apparently aligned
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jun 3, 2002
      Acrimony surrounds Muluzi's re-election


      About 50 opposition supporters in Malawi went into hiding following clashes
      with militant youths apparently aligned with the ruling party, opposition
      officials said on Sunday.

      The opposition supporters fled the town on Zomba, 68 kilometres east of
      Blantyre, after militant youths beat those they suspected were against the
      president running for a third term, said Wilfred Shaba, an official of the
      opposition National Democratic Alliance.

      Supporters of President Bakili Muluzi have been pushing to change the
      constitution to enable him to run for a third term. His second term is due to
      end in 2004.

      Muluzi has not yet said whether he planned to try to extend his reign.
      Shaba said over the weekend vendors wearing a purple ribbon - which has
      been adopted as a symbol by those active in the anti-third term campaign -
      were targeted in the town's market.

      Several were beaten and had their stalls overturned.

      Shaba said the police refused to protect them. Police officials, speaking on
      condition of anonymity, acknowledged the clashes and said an investigation
      was underway.

      Presidential Affairs Minister Dumbo Lemani distanced the ruling United
      Democratic Front party from the violence.

      "Our youths are disciplined but are only used as scapegoats by these failed
      politicians," said Lemani who comes from Zomba.

      Meanwhile, Muslim leaders in Malawi have given their support to the push
      for a presidential third term that would allow Muluzi, a fellow Muslim, to
      continue ruling the country.

      Sheik Alhaj Omar Wochi, chairman of the Muslim Association of Malawi,
      told journalists Muslims do not see any sense in setting term limits for
      leaders.

      "Even the holy Quran tells us that a leader is chosen by God," he said. "So
      why should we oppose the will of Allah?" Church groups in this poor
      southern African nation of 11-million people have been active in the
      campaign to squash the third term bid. - Sapa-AP

      *****

      A Belated Note to Muluzi And His Ilk

      The Nation (Nairobi)

      OPINION
      June 2, 2002
      Posted to the web June 3, 2002

      Mutuma Mathiu


      Malawians have a problem. After suffering the rule of a doddering old fool for decades, they are now contemplating sticking their foot back in the president-for-life mire.

      Here is the story. President Bakili Muluzi has served his two constitutional terms. Now, just like that Zambian mistake Frederick Chiluba, there is a campaign afoot to gerrymander the constitution to allow him not only to run for a third and illegal term, but also to allow that once a person is elected for office he or she can stand for elections for as many times as they want.

      Standing means winning

      Now that is the language of an African president on the way to becoming a big problem for his country. Standing for election in the African presidential context almost inevitably means "winning elections. The Muluzi drama is following the time-honoured African choreography: It is not Mr Muluzi who is asking for another term, they never do, it is his henchmen and his party.

      As a matter of fact, the scatological deed - the tabling of the odoriferous motion - is not even being done by a member of Mr Muluzi's party, oh no, it is being done by Mr Khauli Msiska of the opposition Alliance for Democracy (Afford) party.

      And to lend flavour to this fiction, supporters of Mr Muluzi's party have been demonstrating in favour of his being given a third term and the great Malawian democrat has banned the marches for and against the president-for-life campaign and threatened to set the army on demonstrators for good measure.

      What Africans need to tell the genius of Lilongwe, and other closet Muluzis watching with fearful anticipation the developments in Malawi, is that we were not born yesterday. We saw the thinly-veiled Zambian farce and Mr Chiluba's pathetically frantic efforts to hang on. We saw his attempts to rule by proxy by fighting to have in power a man he thought he could control and his greed to retain control of the ruling party. And we have been howling with laughter at his failure.

      So Mr Muluzi is not showing us anything new. Neither for that matter are other people closer home who have run the whole choreography gambit - from secret campaigns to have the term limit clause erased, to touting spineless successors, to the current scenario of extending the life of parliament.

      It occurs to me that Africans have a serious power problem. Once an African has had a taste of power, he not only wants more of it, but he wants it forever. Mr Kamuzu Banda, whose footsteps Mr Muluzi seems to be wanting to follow, was an exemplification of this atrocious African malady.

      Quite apart from imagining that he owned Malawi, he also pretended that no one else could rule that country. So he hung on until he was so old and so absolutely senile that he was drooling like a puppy and would regularly tip over on his face at state functions. He made a shameful spectacle and a complete mockery of statesmanship.

      Fallacious rubbish

      Every African president imagines that no one else can govern their country, no one else has the benevolence to keep the nation together, keep it from being torn apart by competing power interests and tribes. Which is a fallacious piece of rubbish. A lot of these presidents are men of little ability and even smaller imaginations. They owe their tenure to fate and their longevity to the corrupting powers of their offices.

      I believe the salvation of Africa lies in destroying the myth that the destiny of the continent is in the hands of its presidents and its presidencies. Leaders are important, but we have to live with the truth that we have more bad ones than good ones. We have to implacably devolve our destiny from the hands of egomaniacs and place it in those of the small men and women on whose backs this continent will be built.

      As for Mr Muluzi, he needs to be told that at the moment, he is the Malawian problem.

      It does not matter the size of genius he is. It does not matter if he is a prescient prophet who can turn snakes into fish. The law says his terms are up and therefore his time is up.


      *****

      Conservative Lilongwe Grapples With Sex Education

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      June 3, 2002
      Posted to the web June 3, 2002


      The Malawi Censorship Board has ordered the removal of a controversial condom advertisement that it has declared offensive and pornographic.

      The advertisement, for the Chishango brand, features a couple smiling shyly at each other in a market. But the photograph of the condom's packaging at the bottom right of the billboard has caused an outcry. It is an image of a scantily-clad woman's torso, one hand on her revealed thigh, the other suggestively hovering below her navel.

      Hotly debated in the country's press, and condemned by religious groups, civic Anot Mr Muluzi who is asking for anbodies and women's organisations, the main objections are that it goes against Malawian values, and will tempt the youth to have sex.

      The manufacturers of the condoms, Population Services International, have also put the advertisement on taxis, and at the Mwanza border post welcoming visitors to "Chishango Country".

      A joint statement to the local media by 20 ministers of religion said: "While sex education is imperative in the wake of [the] HIV/AIDS pandemic, this does not warrant wanton display of naked figures."

      Sheikh Dinala Chabulika from the Muslim Association of Malawi said: "The new face of Chishango is offensive, pornographic and degrading. It reduces women to nothing but sex objects."

      The Nation newspaper quoted church leaders as saying: "Enticing the population towards sex to promote the sale of Chishango is like happily dousing us with petrol for the sake of promoting fire extinguishers."

      One youth organisation invoked Article 17 of the UN Convention on child rights, which it says emphasises the role of the media in disseminating information to children which respects their well-being and cultural background.

      The row erupted in the same week that the Malawi National Human Development report said about half of children and adolescents are sexually active before the age of 15. In the 15 to 19 age group, about six times as many young women have AIDS as young men, it said.

      "This is partially explained by the active searching out of schoolgirls and younger women by older men putatively because they believe, despite the statistics, that they are less likely to be infected," the report added.

      The infection rate is four to six times higher for women than men in the 15 to 24 age group. The numbers continue to grow, even though 90 percent of the population is aware of HIV/AIDS.

      The report said the pandemic is poised to undo all the socio-economic gains made over the past years. With most infected people being in the 15 to 49 age group, it is striking people in their prime years. Chronic poverty, which is rampant in Malawi, contributes significantly to its spread and impact.

      "Pre-existing health conditions in Malawi, including chronic malnutrition, endemic bilharzia and vitamin A and iodine deficiency are increasing the vulnerability of people to HIV infections," said the report. Opportunistic diseases have also become more common because of high HIV infection levels and the number of tuberculosis cases has grown from 5,000 in 1985 to over 23,000 at present. Most of these increases are due to HIV.

      Life expectancy has dropped to 40 years due to the upsurge of diseases such as TB and HIV/AIDS.

      Cultural beliefs, which subordinate women and girls, aid the spread of HIV/AIDS. In marriage, women are often powerless to protect themselves even where the risk of infection is obvious.

      According to the report, some communities in Malawi still observe certain cultural practices that promote high-risk behaviour. The most common are initiation ceremonies, widow inheritance and death cleansing.

      Dire predictions include setbacks in the agricultural sector which will lead to food shortages and the draining of household resources for medicines.

      The education sector is also reporting disruption through the death and absenteeism of teachers either through illness or because they have to go home to care for sick relatives.

      The report concludes: "While the majority of Malawians are still HIV-negative, they are still very vulnerable to HIV infection. The challenge of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, therefore, should be to keep all these people HIV negative."


      *****

      Furious farmer teargasses Zimbabwean MP

      A white farmer in Zimbabwe allegedly sprayed tear gas at a ruling party
      lawmaker who took over part of his farm under the country's controversial
      Anot Mr Muluzi who is asking for an land reforms, the Sunday Mail said.

      Isaac Mackenzie, an MP of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union
      -Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) for the northern Kariba constituency, told the
      paper that he had gone to survey a plot allocated to him by the government
      at Sapi Valley Farm on Friday when the owner sprayed tear gas at him.

      According to Mackenzie, farmer Cregg Welsey ordered his security men to
      handcuff the legislator along with his friend while farm workers hurled stones
      at the pair.

      The incident was reported to the police, but the police representative could
      not be reached comment on Sunday.

      The farm is among the hundreds of white-owned properties earmarked for
      compulsory acquisition by government in a bid to correct colonial land
      ownership imbalances which left whites, who make up less than one
      percent of the population, owning more than 70% of the country's prime
      farmland. - Sapa-AFP

      *****

      White Farmer Killed in Zimbabwe

      By Michael Hartnack
      Associated Press Writer
      Sunday, June 2, 2002; 8:11 PM

      HARARE, Zimbabwe ** A white
      Zimbabwean farm manager was
      shot to death Sunday, neighbors
      said, on a farm earmarked for
      confiscation and eventual lease to a
      high ranking civil servant.

      It was not immediately clear if there
      was a link between the killing and
      the government's controversial land
      distribution program.

      President Robert Mugabe's "fast track land reform" was created to
      redistribute 5,000 farms to 264,000 black families by Aug. 31.

      Despite promises to redistribute the land to poor blacks, many of the farms
      have been given to loyal lawmakers and confidantes of Mugabe.

      Charles Anderson, 40, was shot in the head by four assailants who had
      broken into his home on the farm in Glendale, 50 miles north of Harare, a
      neighbor said on condition of anonymity.

      The neighbor said the police arrived at the scene over two hours after the
      shooting, ignoring requests to come immediately following the incident.

      Police Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena hung up when telephoned
      for comment. No other police or government spokesmen were immediately
      available.

      The assailants fled, taking stolen property with them. No militant ruling party
      activists have settled on the farm, as they have on many other properties
      targeted for redistribution, suggesting the incident may have been in the
      context of a robbery.

      A government list, published in February, said the farm where Anderson
      worked was to be leased to a top official in the agriculture ministry.

      Whites make up less than 1 percent of Zimbabwe's population but own most
      of its farmland.

      Critics say Mugabe has used the land issue as a ploy to garner support and
      deflect attention from the country's crumbling economy.
      ar Anot Mr Muluzi who is asking for an
      Over 200 opposition supporters and 11 white farmers have been killed as
      pro-Mugabe militants have carried out the government's land reforms.
    • 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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