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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi students riot over third term Students in Malawi have set fire to the ruling party offices over President Bakili Muluzi s attempt to alter the
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jan 31, 2003
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      Malawi students riot
      over 'third term'

      Students in Malawi have set fire to the ruling
      party offices over President Bakili Muluzi's
      attempt to alter the constitution to stay in
      power.

      The students took to
      the streets after
      thousands of Mr Muluzi's
      supporters marched in
      the commercial capital,
      Blantyre, to back the
      president's move.

      Police dispersed the students after firing tear
      gas.

      Mr Muluzi's attempt to run for a third term has
      divided Malawians, and a parliamentary bill to
      this effect was shelved earlier this week.

      But this has angered members of his United
      Democratic Front (UDF) who have intimidated
      opposition MPs.

      Library attacked

      Hundreds of students hurled stones at Mr
      Muluzi's sympathisers, who themselves carried
      stones, machetes and knives.

      "We got furious about
      this because the
      police were protecting
      the UDF supporters
      and we rushed to
      torch their regional
      office," a student
      leader said.

      UDF supporters waving
      banners reading "He
      will stand again" had
      broken all the windows
      of the university
      library.

      After the students were dispersed by police,
      the Muluzi supporters marched back through
      the city under police escort.

      There were no reports of injuries or arrests.

      Controversial

      Feelings have been running high in Malawi over
      the third term issue, and when a parliamentary
      started on Monday, police had to fire tear gas
      to disperse some 4,000 people protesting
      against the bill.

      Police also had to intervene in parliament to
      prevent fights breaking out between rival MPs
      after the bill was withdrawn.

      On Tuesday, Mr Muluzi sacked Commerce and
      Industry Minister Peter Kaleso because of his
      opposition to the 'third term' bill.

      A similar bill was narrowly defeated in July last
      year.

      Unless the constitution is changed, Mr Muluzi is
      due to step down in 2004, when he is due to
      finish his second term in office.

      *****

      Malawi MPs flee over
      third term row

      By Raphael Tenthani
      BBC, Blantyre

      Two opposition Members of Parliament from the
      central tobacco heartland of Kasungu are in
      hiding after angry militant youths of the ruling
      United Democratic Front (UDF) terrorised their
      homes.

      Gwanda Chakuamba, leader of the opposition
      Malawi Congress Party (MCP), told BBC News
      Online that Sailes Gulule and Carrington Jimu
      had fled their homes after the youths invaded
      their compounds Wednesday night, threatening
      to kill them.

      The youths were angered by
      the government's failure to
      change the constitution to
      enable President Bakili
      Muluzi to stand for a third
      term in office.

      A parliamentary bill to this effect was shelved
      earlier this week after widespread opposition.

      The issue has divided Malawians and when the
      debate started on Monday, police had to fire
      tear gas to disperse some 4,000 people
      protesting against the bill.

      Unless the constitution is changed, Mr Muluzi is
      due to step down in 2004.

      Knives and stones

      "It's shameful that the ruling party wants to
      take us back to the dark days," Mr Chakuamba
      said.

      Mr Gulule said he was
      trying to plead with
      Inspector General of
      Police Joseph Aironi to
      provide protection for
      the MPs.

      Speaking from his
      undisclosed hiding
      place, Mr Gulule said
      the militant youths
      came to the MPs'
      houses in an open van
      in the dead of night.

      He said sympathisers warned him to flee his
      house because the vehicle was full of people
      armed with machetes and stones.

      "I was really scared," he said. "I am in hiding
      but I am worried about my family."

      Both Mr Gulule and Mr Jimu were reported in
      the local media as having rejected UDF
      attempts to persuade them to vote for the bill.

      Food shortages

      The two are the latest victims of the fall-out
      following the shelving of the controversial third
      term bid.

      Sacked Commerce and Industry Minister Peter
      Kaleso and outspoken MP Green Lulilo
      Mwamondwe, from the opposition Alliance for
      Democracy (Aford) had to seek refuge at the
      British High Commission after being roughed up
      by UDF activists.

      Two other dissident ruling UDF MPs, Joe
      Manduwa and Jan Jaap Sonke, had to be
      rescued by police after openly saying they
      would thwart the bill.

      Meanwhile, the British High Commission has
      expressed disquiet over the holding of the
      extraordinary parliament session.

      In a press release, the UK said it was sad that
      at a time Malawi was reeling from severe food
      shortages and the impact of HIV/Aids,
      government saw it wise to spend 7 million
      Malawi kwacha ($80, 000) to hold the special
      debate.

      *****

      Zim admits to "admin errors" in land reform
      process
      Johannesburg
      31
      January 2003 07:58

      The Zimbabwean government has admitted that some
      "administrative errors"
      had occurred during its land reform process, South
      African Agriculture and
      Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza said on
      Thursday.

      These included that some commercial farmers whose
      land was seized for
      redistribution, were left without any land, despite
      the government's policy
      that they should be allowed to keep one farm, she
      told reporters at the
      Johannesburg International Airport after returning
      from a two-day visit to
      Zimbabwe.

      "There are some instances where a person who had
      two farms were left with
      none at all."

      Other examples of administrative errors included
      that two prospective new
      land owners were allocated the same farm, and that
      applicants for land were
      allowed to settle on that land, only to find out
      later that the farm had been
      allocated to someone else.

      "The government and the commercial farmers have
      started discussions to
      correct the administrative irregularities."

      Although the uptake of land among small-scale
      farmers was between 80 and
      90%, that of commercial farmers was only about 30%,
      Didiza said.

      "That indicates to you that there are indeed
      challenges."

      She said the price of seed, fertiliser and farming
      implements was too
      expensive because due to the foreign exchange
      rate.

      "Indications are that all is not hunky-dory. There
      are successes, but there
      are also challenges."

      The Zimbabwean government estimated that the maize
      that had been
      planted, would yield a crop of 1,1-million tons, if
      the season went well, the
      minister said.

      "The challenges are there, but you are beginning to
      see some process of
      mitigation."

      Foot-and-mouth disease broke out in Zimbabwe two
      years ago and has still
      not been brought under control.

      Didiza said the South African Cabinet would discuss
      the possibility of
      helping its neighbour with the vaccine it needed to
      fight the disease. - Sapa

      *****

      Official Seeks Closure of Zimbabwe Paper

      By Angus Shaw
      Associated Press Writer
      Thursday, January 30, 2003; 11:01 PM

      HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The information
      minister told Zimbabwe's Supreme Court that
      the country's only independent daily newspaper
      is illegal and should be punished for flouting
      stringent media laws, court officials said
      Thursday.

      The Daily News has refused to register with the
      government as required by the laws, the
      minister, Jonathan Moyo, said in a sworn
      statement to the court, the officials said.

      Moyo is the architect of the media laws, which
      critics say are aimed at stifling criticism of the
      government.

      The Daily News admits refusing to register and
      has asked the court to strike down the law,
      saying it violates rights to free expression and
      association. The court has not scheduled a
      hearing.

      Moyo said until courts or Parliament repealed
      the media act it should be obeyed. He asked
      the Supreme Court to dismiss the newspaper's
      application and force it to comply or shut down, the
      officials said.

      Authorities have cracked down on independent
      journalists in recent months.

      Police have arrested 14 local independent
      journalists, including several from The Daily News, mainly on
      charges of publishing "falsehoods" that carry a
      penalty of up to two years in jail. The only journalist to
      be tried so far was acquitted.

      The new laws also require foreign journalists to
      apply for government approval before coming to
      Zimbabwe. The government routinely denies the
      requests.

      No action has been taken against journalists working
      for state-controlled media.

      On Monday, Japanese Ambassador Tsuneshige Iiyama
      said he had not made remarks attributed to him
      in the state Herald newspaper criticizing the leader
      of the opposition Movement for Democratic
      Change. The paper is closely controlled by Moyo.

      Parts of the article were "totally fabricated," the
      ambassador said in a letter to Herald editor Pikirayi
      Deketeke. Iiyama also said Moyo had raised
      "Zimbabwe's bad image."

      And last week James Morris, the U.N. special envoy
      to the southern African hunger crisis, complained
      the Herald fabricated a remark attributed to him
      praising Zimbabwe's often-violent seizures of
      white-owned commercial farms.

      Morris protested a second time after claiming his
      first protest letter was published in the paper with key
      words edited out to change the meaning.

      Three journalists, two of them Americans with
      government press accreditation, were detained by police
      for seven hours Tuesday and denied telephone calls
      and access to a lawyer.

      On Wednesday, five foreign Lutheran church workers
      were deported after being accused of being
      undercover journalists trying to gather information
      on aid projects to help the Lutheran World
      Federation raise funds.

      *****

      Heavy jail terms for
      Mozambique murder

      Six men found guilty of killing an investigative
      journalist in Mozambique have been given jail
      sentences of up to 29 years.

      The mastermind of the
      plot to kill Carlos
      Cardoso in November
      2000, Anibal dos Santos,
      was tried in his absence
      after escaping from
      prison in September.

      Mr dos Santos, known as Anibalzinho was
      arrested in South Africa on Thursday, and
      police there say he will be extradited to
      Mozambique.

      Some of the other five defendants have
      implicated the son of President Joaquim
      Chissano in what the judge called
      Mozambique's "worst-ever crime".

      The murder and subsequent trial gripped
      Mozambique and the streets of the capital,
      Maputo, were deserted as the sentences were
      handed down.

      Mr Cardoso was investigating a prominent
      family's role in the nation's largest banking
      scandal

      Voluntary return

      Anibalzinho, 31, was sentenced to 28 years
      and six months in jail by a Maputo court for
      murder, illegal possession of firearms and
      making false statements to state authorities.

      His five accomplices received jail terms of 23
      years and six months each after changing their
      pleas to guilty.

      They were also
      orderered to pay
      restitution of 4 billion
      meticais (US$175,000)
      to Mr Cardoso's family.

      "The six committed a
      serious crime," said
      Judge Augusto Paulino.

      "I think the
      punishments were
      correct. I am happy,"
      said Mr Cardoso's
      widow, Nina Berg.

      Anibalzinho told a Pretoria court on Friday he
      would return to Mozambique voluntarily.

      "I just want to finish this matter," he said.

      Mysterious cheques

      The court proceedings - described by some as
      the trial of the century - have been broadcast
      live on national television.

      Last month, attention in the trial shifted to the
      president's son, Nyimpine Chissano.

      The suspects showed
      a cheque signed by Mr
      Chissano to the court,
      saying he had used it
      to pay for Mr
      Cardoso's killing.

      Nyimpine Chissano has
      denied this, saying the
      cheque may have
      come from a business
      contact to whom he
      had given signed
      cheques as a
      guarantee.

      He has not been charged with any crime.

      Correspondents say that a court decision to
      launch a formal investigation into the
      allegations against Mr Chissano will prove
      crucial in persuading the people of Mozambique
      whether their judiciary is above political
      interference.
    • 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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