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  • Christine Chumbler
    Uproar Over Mandatory Aids Test for Seminarians African Church Information Service November 18, 2002 Posted to the web November 15, 2002 Reported By Hamilton
    Message 1 of 1046 , Nov 18, 2002
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      Uproar Over Mandatory Aids Test for Seminarians

      African Church Information Service
      November 18, 2002
      Posted to the web November 15, 2002

      Reported By Hamilton Vokhiwa
      Limbe, Malawii

      The Catholic Church in Malawi has announced a new plan to impose a
      mandatory HIV/AIDS test on its seminarians before they are admitted
      into
      priesthood. But this has attracted reactions of disapproval by interns
      intending to become priests.

      At least 15 deacons from the church's six dioceses were forced to
      undergo
      HIV tests for them to be admitted as deacons. "We received directives
      from
      the bishops to undergo the HIV tests or remain unordained," said a
      deacon
      from the Archdiocese of Blantyre who insisted on anonymity.

      He said this is a new development in the
      history of the Catholic Church whose
      priests observe celibacy. He noted that the
      seminarians initially resisted the directive
      but later gave in to threats of dismissal by
      the bishops.

      The deacon said together with his
      colleagues, they were referred to St Luke's Hospital which is run by
      the
      Anglican Church, some 20 kilometres from the university town of Zomba
      to
      be tested for HIV.

      "Fortunately, all of us tested negative. This gave as relief as we
      were
      forewarned that anyone who tested HIV positive would be sent packing".

      Blantyre Archdiocese vocational director, Fr. Peter Phiri confirmed
      the
      directive but said he was not sure when it would be implemented. "I
      just
      heard that this was agreed by the bishops but I am not sure when it
      was
      supposed to be implemented".

      But the general secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, Fr.
      Robert
      Mwaungulu refused to comment on the issue .

      The acting Rector of St Peter's Major Seminary, where the deacons were
      trained, refused to comment on the issue, saying individual dioceses
      were
      better placed to comment.

      However, a high ranking priest in Bantyre said he found it
      discriminatory
      coming at a time when efforts are being made by different organization
      to
      give HIV/AIDS a human face and that patients should not be shunned but
      encouraged to face life with optimism.

      He said the issue was debatable, unless the bishops have good reasons
      for
      enforcing it. Forcing anyone to take an HIV test was infringing on
      their rights
      and against the universal declaration of Human and people's Rights, he
      added.

      The Human Rights Commission has expressed displeasure at this
      development .It also condemned the imposition by the church of
      mandatory
      HIV tests on its seminarians. The chairman, George Kanyama Phiri said
      in a
      statement that "the church's stand was unconstitutional".

      The Commission maintained the Constitution guaranteed every citizen
      personal liberty (Section 18), dignity which is inviolable (Section 19)
      and
      prohibits discrimination in any form (Section 20).

      The MHRC said subjecting priests to mandatory testing amounts to a
      violation of their rights to human dignity and discrimination on
      grounds of
      their HIV status. Rejecting them to priesthood on that basis would
      subject
      them to unnecessary ridicule and psychological torture.

      "The Catholic Church as an institution which champions human rights
      should
      be in the forefront in observing and fighting for the rights of their
      faithful and
      as such they were required to set a good example in this regard,"
      charged
      Kanyama.

      It would appear the Catholic Church has made this decision based on
      the
      misconception that people who test HIV positive are of low moral
      standing in
      society. To the contrary, people may contract the virus through other
      means
      other than immoral behaviour.

      The move also comes when many organisations are advocating for special
      measures to reduce the trauma caused by rejection of HIV/AIDS
      patients.

      *****

      Zambian minister slammed for loony Aids
      comments
      Lusaka

      15 November
      2002 09:09

      Aids activists criticised a Zambian official on
      Thursday for his proposal to
      round up everyone infected with HIV and force them
      into isolation camps.

      Alex Chama, deputy minister for Luapula province,
      made his comments
      during a parliamentary debate Wednesday over a bill
      to form a National Aids
      Council secretariat to coordinate Zambia's response
      to the pandemic.

      "(Those infected) are busy spreading the problem. It
      is not fair," Chama
      said. "They should be isolated to a specific camp
      until such a time that they
      become negative."

      Leaving aside Chama's statement that people infected
      with HIV can
      suddenly turn HIV negative -- which they can't --
      Aids activists said it was
      sad to see a government minister express such
      attitudes in a country where
      an estimated 20% of people are HIV
      positive.

      People Living with HIV/Aids Chairman Augustine Chola
      said people like
      Chama are trying to move society backward and do not
      deserve to represent
      Zambians in government. Not all those infected with
      HIV were promiscuous,
      Chola said.

      Parliament is debating Aids legislation so it can
      qualify for $42-million from
      the global Aids fund.
      During the debate, Catherine Namugala, the deputy
      foreign minister, told
      Parliament it should introduce laws to deal with
      husbands who rape their
      wives. - Sapa-AP

      *****

      Beware of swearing at Bob and the Wailers
      Harare

      18 November
      2002 13:25

      President Robert Mugabe's government has published
      new laws that make it
      a crime to gesture rudely or swear at his
      high-speed, heavily armed
      motorcade.

      The road traffic regulations issued on Monday state
      that when the
      presidential motorcade -- usually comprising about
      24 vehicles -- passes,
      anyone nearby "shall not make any gesture or
      statement within the view or
      hearing of the state motorcade with the intention of
      insulting any person
      travelling with an escort or any member of the
      escort".

      Mugabe's motorcade -- colloquially known as "Bob and
      the Wailers"
      because of the sirens of the accompanying motorcycle
      escorts -- includes
      4X4 vehicles packed with heavily-armed soldiers,
      sedans carrying
      plainclothes secret police and an ambulance, at the
      back.

      At the centre is Mugabe's bullet-proof stretch
      Mercedes Benz with
      dark-tinted windows. No reason was given for the new
      regulations, but it was
      suggested that passersby had often made offensive
      signs or shouted at the
      passing vehicles.

      David Coltart, legal director for the opposition
      Movement for Democratic
      Change, said his party's supporters had been
      arrested for chanting the party
      slogan, "chinja!" (change) and waving the MDC
      open-hand salute when
      Mugabe passed.

      "If anything is an admission that your subjects
      dislike you, it's these
      regulations," he said.

      When the convoy sweeps down the road, all other
      vehicles are forced by the
      to pull to the side of the road and stop. The
      regulations stated that "the
      driver of every vehicle on the road on which a state
      motorcade is travelling . .
      . shall halt his vehicle".

      The regulations add to the armoury of laws meant to
      uphold "the dignity" of
      the 78-year-old Mugabe. Under the Public Order and
      Security Act passed
      earlier this year, anyone who "makes an abusive or
      indecent or obscene or
      false statement" about the president can
      go to jail for up to a year.

      Last week a Harare magistrate acquitted MDC activist
      Kevin Gota on
      charges of "denigrating the president". Police
      arrested him in March this
      year for declaring, "Down with Mugabe, he is an old
      man".

      The magistrate said the words were "not abusive of
      the state president in
      any way".

      The week before, police arrested a 40-year-old for
      holding up a placard in a
      busy Harare township shopping centre that read: "God
      shall confront
      Mugabe over evils done to people. Then would the
      police and the Central
      Intelligence Organisation (secret police)
      arrest god on that day?" - Sapa

      *****

      Zimbabwe Adds Price Controls

      By Michael Hartnack
      Associated Press Writer
      Saturday, November 16, 2002; 8:31 PM

      HARARE, Zimbabwe –– Zimbabwe's
      government froze prices on a range of products
      from tractors to diapers Saturday, moving to
      ease an economic crisis that has been worsened
      by continuing political violence.

      The government intended the freeze to curtail
      "unjustified price hikes," the state-run Herald
      newspaper reported.

      Analysts said it was a response to inflation that
      now runs at 144 percent.

      The announcement came amid an economic
      crisis that has been made worse by the violence
      surrounding the government's efforts to seize
      white-owned farms in the agriculture-based
      economy.

      Last year, the government first introduced price
      controls on a range of staples such as cornmeal,
      sugar, salt, bread, milk and cooking oil and the
      products remain scarce throughout the southern
      African nation.

      "As the Government becomes desperate, they
      take more and more measures," said
      Zimbabwean economist Anthony Hawkins.

      Earlier this week, the government said it would shut
      private foreign exchange offices and introduce tighter
      currency controls in response to black market
      exchange rates of up to 30 times the official one.

      Only registered banks would be allowed under the new
      rules to handle hard currency from businesses and
      individuals. Licensed exchange bureaus would be
      abolished by the end of the month.

      A scarcity of hard currency has led to shortages in
      gasoline and other essential imports and has hampered
      efforts to import grain to ease a food crisis.

      Last year, President Robert Mugabe announced
      Zimbabwe was "going back to socialism," after
      abandoning the free-market economic reforms imposed
      as part of a 1991 with the World Bank.

      *****

      Mozambique murder trial
      begins

      The trial of six men for the murder of a leading
      Mozambican journalist, Carlos Cardoso, is due
      to begin in the capital, Maputo,

      One man was reported two months ago to
      have escaped from prison and will be tried in
      his absence.

      The five other defendants will stand trial inside
      prison.

      The authorities say
      this is for security
      reasons, but lawyers
      for the accused are
      threatening to boycott
      the trial unless it is
      moved to a regular
      court.

      Our Southern Africa
      correspondent Barnaby
      Phillips says the
      murder, and the
      subsequent
      investigation, have
      highlighted the growing corruption in one of
      Africa's best performing economies.

      Carlos Cardoso dominated the small world of
      Mozambican journalism, and led the struggle
      for press freedom as Mozambique abandoned
      Marxism and became a multi-party democracy.

      A courageous reporter, he was investigating
      banking scandals two years ago when he was
      gunned down on a Maputo street.

      Cover-up?

      His death shocked Mozambique. At his funeral,
      President Joachim Chissano promised that the
      state would do everything in its power to
      arrest and bring to trial his killers.

      But the investigation
      has moved at a slow
      pace.

      The suspicion of a
      cover-up was
      strengthened in
      September when one
      of the alleged
      assassins escaped,
      under mysterious
      circumstances, from
      Maputo's highest
      security prison.

      The lawyer for the suspect, Anibalzinho, said
      he might have been killed in jail and said there
      were reports of bloodstains in his client's cell.

      Attorney General Joaquim Madeira described
      the escape as "a body blow to our judicial
      system".

      The Mozambican police are reported to have
      stepped up security for the presiding judge in
      the case.

      Judde Augusto Paulino said he will question a
      former government minister and President
      Chissano's son in connection with the case,
      although he has not yet decided to charge
      them.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22 8:06 AM
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        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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