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  • Christine Chumbler
    HIV/Aids Pandemic Props Up Caesarean Deliveries African Church Information Service March 24, 2003 Posted to the web March 25, 2003 Reported By Hobbs Gama
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 26, 2003
      HIV/Aids Pandemic Props Up Caesarean Deliveries

      African Church Information Service
      March 24, 2003
      Posted to the web March 25, 2003

      Reported By Hobbs Gama

      Major hospitals in Malawi have resorted to caesarean child deliveries,
      as a
      way of checking transmission of HIV from mother to child during birth.

      For the past two years, the government of Malawi has been trying to put
      place a programme for free administration of nevirapine to
      mothers, in order to prevent passing of the virus to the baby at
      Nevirapine is an antiretroviral drug.

      However financial constraints have failed the
      programme. It was to run concurrently with
      development of a revolving fund for
      antiretrovirals (ARVs) drugs for HIV/AIDS

      Reports indicate that in the past three years,
      the rate of caesarean sections had gone up to
      an average 10 to 12 percent, while the
      standard rate is supposed to be 1.5 percent of
      total births, according health authorities.

      The sister-in-charge of Blantyre Adventists Hospital, Effeli Chapotera,
      out of 659 expectant women who went for delivery from November 2000 to
      date, 193 gave birth through caesarean section, attributing this to an
      increase in HIV-infected mothers.

      "This is not to say all cases were HIV positive. There are of course
      other causes like malpresentation- improper positioning of the unborn
      baby, or cephalopelvic, a case of narrow birth canal," observes

      "But the rising of the HIV pandemic has really pushed the use of
      caesarean," she points out.

      Trends from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Malawi's major referral
      centre and Lilongwe Central, another large health institution, confirm
      rising caesarean rate.

      Out of 34,250 women who delivered at Lilongwe hospital between the
      2000 and 2002, 3,509 went through caesarean section.

      Although other health officials point at over-diagnosis in some of the
      hospitals and lack of proper training among maternity staff in
      complications related to child bearing, HIV stood out as the main cause
      increased caesarian.

      Deputy director in the Department of Reproductive Health in the
      Ministry of
      Health and Population, Jane Namasasu, confirmed HIV as the compelling

      "In the past caesarean was the last option in an emergency situation
      now, to reduce the infection from mother to child, caesarean has to be
      encouraged," asserted Namasasu.


      Mysterious Beast Unleashes Terror On Villagers

      African Church Information Service
      March 24, 2003
      Posted to the web March 25, 2003

      Hamilton Vokhiwa

      Malawi seems to have entered this year on the wrong foot. After
      widespread flooding and attacks by man-eating lions, villagers in parts
      the country now have to contend with harassment by a strange-looking
      animal. The beast has struck with so much might that thousands of
      have been displaced from their homesteads, reports AANA correspondent
      Hamilton Vokhiwa.

      There seems to be no end in sight to calamities afflicting Malawi.

      This year opened with floods, brought
      about by cyclone Delfina. The disaster
      caused widespread damage to transport
      infrastructure, by destroying bridges and
      railway lines. Large tracts of crop fields
      were also washed away.

      At least ten people died and tens of
      thousands others got displaced from their homes. The survivors are yet
      recover from the disturbance.

      Come February, authorities again got dumbfounded by wild beasts
      on people living near woodlands in Central Malawi.

      The past two months were marked by stray lions harassing villagers.
      man eaters were suspected to have come from national parks in Kasungu
      and Nkhotakota districts. They killed and devoured seven people.

      Government game rangers killed at least one of the marauding lions,
      there were fears that three more were still on the loose.

      The latest incident is strange. It involves an unidentified beast that
      killed three people and severely injured 16 others. Three of the
      victims had
      their arms amputated in hospital following the attack.

      It was early March, when the strange beast, which fails to take
      of a hyena or any other known beast, attacked and killed the three at
      stroke in Dowa district, also in Central Malawi.

      About 4,000 residents from Chitambalala, Mbonyeni and Kalinda villages
      the district, had to flee their homes. They sought refuge at Chezi
      centre, along the main road leading from the capital Lilongwe to the
      lakeshore district of Salima.

      Some of the displaced villagers camped at the District Commissioner's
      office and in schools around Dowa township.

      The government, through the Department of Disaster Preparedness,
      Relief and Rehabilitation, provided relief food to the victims.

      The police launched a round-the-clock patrol in Dowa in an effort to
      down the marauding beast believed by locals to be supernatural.

      Police spokesman, Kelvin Maigwa, confirmed that efforts to kill it had
      proved futile. He said both police and the District Commissioner of
      were working hand-in-hand to find a way of killing the animal.

      The officer in charge at Dowa police station, Manfred Kaluwa, said
      patrol team was failing to find the beast, despite information by some
      villagers that they had spotted it at different places, but that it
      whenever they tried to capture it.

      At one time, said one policeman, the beast was spotted preying on a
      in a kraal in one of the villages. When police officers fired at the
      animal, the
      bullets missed, instead hitting the goat. The beast came out of the
      and ran away, unwounded.

      Francis Golden, a driver travelling with police patrol team talked of
      spectacular incident during one of the evenings. "One of the police
      fired at the beast from a close range, but to our surprise the animal
      into three smaller beasts, which then disappeared into the thicket,"

      The police sealed caves and holes believed to be dens of hyenas along
      Lipimbi river, near Chatambalala village, in a bid to contain the
      "We are still providing security in the area. We sealed two holes where
      found the remains of goats and pigs that had been devoured by the
      animal along the river," said Kaluwa.

      Many people believe there is an element of superstition in the
      involving the strange animal. Last year, some people in the same
      killed a strange beast that had terrorised the area. There were
      accounts of how the beast died.

      The locals claimed that they killed it using "traditional" methods.
      officials in the Department of Parks and Wildlife reported that the
      beast, which looked like a hyena but with some strange features, died

      This angered the villagers. This year the "village experts" have
      refused to
      co-operate with government personnel.

      They accuse the authorities of not recognising their "ability" to kill
      beast, and have sarcastically challenged the police and game rangers
      deal with the situation alone with "their modern guns."

      g Come February, authorities again got
      SA sex trafficking widespread
      South Africa is the regional
      centre of a pervasive trafficking
      ring of women and children for
      the sex industry, says an
      international NGO.

      Local syndicates as well as global
      Chinese triad and Russian organized
      crime gangs are involved, says the
      International Organisation for

      The trade in southern Africa is being fuelled by
      economic deprivation
      and civil unrest, it stated.

      The IMO are calling on governments in the region to
      make human
      trafficking a criminal offence as well as provide
      awareness and training
      for officials as a way to bear down on the growing
      exploitative and
      lucrative sex industry.

      The report compiled in Pretoria was based on 232
      interviews with
      victims and traffickers from 11 countries, as well as
      officials from
      governments, police and the media.

      Frenzy for fantasies

      "White, Afrikaans-speaking men" abduct street-children
      in Lesotho,
      bring them across the border into South Africa, and
      assault them for
      days in "a feeding frenzy for fantasies of hatred,
      humiliation and
      revenge," the reports says.

      Women from Moscow and Bulgaria in eastern Europe and
      Thailand in
      Asia are also being trafficked by international
      criminal groups, to work
      in high class brothels in South Africa.

      Some 1,000 Mozambicans aged between 14 and 24 are
      smuggled every
      year to Johannesburg where they are forced to work in
      restaurants or
      as prostitutes.

      They usually pay their traffickers $65 each for
      smuggling them across
      the border. Many are then assaulted and sold on to
      brothels and as


      In Malawi European sex tourists recruit girls and boys
      from holiday
      resorts along Lake Malawi.

      According to IMO, some Malawian parents are paid by
      sex agents who
      also dangle the prospects of better educational
      opportunities in Europe
      for their offspring.

      Such victims, the report says, are
      "featured in pornographic videos that
      are transmitted over the internet
      with victims' names and contact
      details included".

      "In Europe, the children are sexually
      exploited in private homes, and are
      sold to paedophile rings," the report

      Businesswomen in Malawi, according
      to the report, play a major role in
      the selling of women and girls as sex
      slaves in the West.

      Some are taken to the Netherlands,
      where they are then sold on to
      Nigerian traffickers for $10,000

      There, as elsewhere, the victims are ordered to work
      as prostitutes to
      pay off their debt which can sometimes be as high as

      The report also says that the so-called recruits are
      in turn sold or rented
      to other Nigerian agents working in Belgium, Italy and


      Zimbabwe stung by US criticism

      26 March
      2003 13:10

      Zimbabwean officials lashed out Wednesday against
      the United States for
      its criticism of the government's violent response
      to an an opposition-led
      national strike, denying there had been a brutal
      crackdown against dissent.

      Willard Chiwewe, a high ranking foreign ministry
      official blamed last week's
      national strike which prompted the crackdown on
      British and US-backed
      industrialists, the state Herald newspaper reported
      on Wednesday.

      "The so-called mass action which the Americans are
      hailing as successful
      was a shut out of industries and workers. The
      workers reported for work but
      were shut out," he said.

      US State Department representative Richard Boucher
      on Monday described
      the strike as "successful and largely peaceful" and
      said Washington
      condemned unprecedented violence sponsored by the
      government security
      forces that followed.

      The crackdown included the arrests of at least 400
      people and injuries of
      another 250. Boucher said Zimbabwe authorities
      embarked on what he
      called a massive retribution campaign against the
      opposition Movement for
      Democratic Change.

      He said government leaders and their supporters had
      sharply escalated
      repression of all forms of dissent since the
      beginning of the year.

      Chiwewe said Boucher's remarks were "an intrusion
      in the internal affairs of
      small countries" that breached international law,
      The Herald said.

      "It is no secret the United States is already
      playing its assumed role as the
      epicenter and police headquarters of the world," he

      The opposition Movement for Democratic Change and
      independent human
      rights monitors said Tuesday at least 1 000 people
      were arrested, assaulted
      and hounded from their homes in the aftermath of
      the strike.

      The Herald, a main government mouthpiece, said
      police confirmed the
      arrests of about 200 people and denied allegations
      of assault and torture.

      The newspaper reported youths were paid to stir the

      Court officials, meanwhile, said four opposition
      activists were ordered held in
      custody on charges they torched a ruling party
      office in the provincial town
      of Chinhoyi, 115 kilometres northwest of Harare
      last week. Another 20
      people were taken into police custody for alleged
      involvement in public
      violence in the Harare area during the strike,
      court officials said. The strike,
      taken as a stand against political repression and
      acute shortages of food
      and gasoline, shut down most of the economy,
      disrupting transport services
      and shutting down shops, banks, factories and state
      post offices.

      The opposition gave the government a March 31
      ultimatum to either
      introduce democratic reforms or face further

      Two parliamentary by-elections scheduled for this
      weekend in urban
      opposition strongholds have increased already
      seething tensions in the
      capital. Campaigning has been marred by violence
      and intimidation. Last
      week's strike was the largest protest since Mugabe
      -- brought to power at
      independence in 1980 -- was re-elected for another
      six-year term in
      presidential elections contested by Tsvangirai last

      Observers said those elections were marred by
      intimidation and vote-rigging.
      - Sapa-AP


      Floods hit hungry Zambia
      Some 10,000 people have been
      left homeless after heavy rains
      in southern Zambia, which is
      already suffering from acute
      food shortages.

      Webster Mulubisha, permanent
      secretary in the vice president's
      office, told Reuters news agency that
      floods had destroyed huge fields of
      maize and infrastructure in Gwembe
      district, 380 km (240 miles) south of
      the capital, Lusaka.

      Some areas were cut off, with roads impassable and
      electricity and
      telephone supplies down, he said.

      The flooding follows a severe drought which left more
      than a quarter of
      Zambia's 10 million people in need of food aid.

      Some 14.4 million people across southern Africa need
      food aid as a
      result of crop failures caused by drought and flooding
      in some areas.

      Higher ground

      "Houses, including a police station, have been
      destroyed. There are
      huge craters on roads and the area is totally cut off.

      "The damage is big and the
      government has already started
      giving relief food to more than
      10,000 people," Mr Mulubisha said.

      Thousands have fled to higher
      ground to escape the flooding, he

      A senior government official
      estimated almost 2,000 hectares of
      maize, Zambia's staple food, had
      been destroyed in Gwembe.

      The food crisis is worsened by the HIV/Aids pandemic
      which affects
      about a quarter of Zambia's population.

      An improved 2002-3 rainy season has reduced the need
      for food aid in
      some parts of southern Africa.
    • 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.


        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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