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  • Christine Chumbler
    Land dispute on Malawi tea estate turns violent Blantyre 30 May 2003 14:46 One man has been killed and several others injured in violent clashes between
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 30, 2003
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      Land dispute on Malawi tea estate turns violent
      Blantyre
      30 May 2003 14:46
      One man has been killed and several others injured in violent clashes
      between landless peasants and security guards at a tea estate in the
      southern Malawian district of Mulanje, police said on Thursday.

      Police representative George Chikowi said a group of 40 landless
      peasants from a village bordering Lauderdale Tea Estate invaded the
      estate on Tuesday and started parcelling up land among themselves.

      When security guards tried to evict them the irate peasants besieged
      the estate's chief security officer's house where fighting broke out.

      "A free-for-all fight erupted as the security guards tried to chase the
      intruders out of the estate," he said.

      The body of the slain peasant, whom police identified as 50-year-old
      Lewis Thunga, was found in a forest on the edge of the estate. He had
      multiple stab wounds.

      At least 10 people were injured -- four of them seriously, according to
      Mulanje District Hospital officials.

      The four, who were hacked with panga knives, are still receiving
      treatment at the hospital.

      The police representative said no arrests had been made in connection
      with Thunga's death but armed police officers had been sent to the
      estate to investigate the incident and to prevent any possible
      retaliatory attacks by angry villagers.

      He said the land dispute arose because the villagers misunderstand the
      concept of land lease as the estate in under lease from the government.

      "The estate is properly leased but the villagers don't seem to
      understand," he said.

      Makaula village residents say that as indigenous residents in the area
      they cannot allow estates to get all the good land while they do not
      have any.

      Lauderdale Tea Estate General Manager Rick Illingworth said that
      neighbouring Makaula villagers have been causing a lot of problems to
      the estate for the past two
      years.

      "We have been trying legal means to end the problem but we have so far
      been getting no cooperation from either government or the police," he
      said.

      A spokesman for the villagers, who declined to be name for fear of
      police reprisals, said the village has patchy rocky land where no
      meaningful agricultural practices can be carried out.

      He said government's promises on land have come to nothing.

      "We have to survive," he said.

      Lands minister Thengo Maloya is on record as having promised that
      government would repossess all idle land from big estates and
      redistribute among the landless using the controversial new land
      policy.

      The new land policy bars any foreigner from owning land in Malawi. -
      Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Farmers Criticise Ban of Lower Shire Meat

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      May 28, 2003
      Posted to the web May 28, 2003

      Brian Ligomeka
      Blantyre7

      Cattle farmers in the Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa say
      the blanket ban on meat products following the outbreak of foot and
      mouth disease has crippled their business.

      The farmers accuse the government of over-reacting to the outbreak of
      foot and mouth saying that the outbreak only affected a 15 kilometre
      radius in the Lower Shire.

      Jasiteni Jenala, a prominent cattle farmer in Nsanje argues that it is
      unfair to restrict movement of livestock and meat products from all
      quarters, because of an outbreak which has just affected a small area.

      "We are really devastated because the six months ban will cripple our
      businesses," said Jenala, whose farm slaughters up to 10 cattle each
      day.

      His concerns are shared by James Nguluwe, a cattle farmer at Chapananga
      in Chikwawa, who says that the government should bear in mind the fact
      that people in the Lower Shire depend on cattle rearing to earn their
      living.

      "It is a known fact the crops do not do well here.

      We rear livestock as our main of source of livelihood and our readily
      available market is Blantyre.

      This restriction of cattle, goats and pigs has hit us hard indeed," he
      said.

      The complaints come after the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and
      Food Security instituted a blanket ban on meat and its products from
      major cattle producing districts along the Shire River valley, due to a
      foot and mouth disease outbreak reported in some parts of the area.

      Senior officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Food
      Security who are engaged in a war of words with private sector in the
      meat industry over the surprise ban, say they have taken samples from
      infected animals to determine the type of vaccine to be administered, in
      order to contain further spread of the outbreak.

      As at going to press, no figures of infected or dead animals had been
      made available.

      Cattle farmers in the Lower Shire districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa,
      blame the government for announcing a ban without consulting other
      stakeholders, claiming it was only a small part of Nchalo in Chikwawa
      district that was affected.

      The disease, according to veterinary officials, was contracted from
      buffaloes at the Lengwe National Park in Chikwawa.

      Local cattle farmers have erected road blocks around their areas, while
      others restrict their herds in pens.

      The ban, which the Agriculture Ministry says will be in effect for six
      months, has prompted an outcry from players in the beef and animal
      products industry.

      "I was counting on selling my three head of cattle to assist my family,
      only to be put off on the eleventh hour," complained Maliko Zambaza of
      Nsanje.

      Butchers, meat suppliers and shops complain of dwindling meat supplies
      in Blantyre.

      Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Food
      Security, Dr Ellard Malindi, confirmed that the ban would stay for a
      six-month period to prevent neighbouring tea and coffee growing
      districts of Thyolo and Mulanje, from being affected.

      Malindi said authorities were not only fearing for meat but other
      products as well, saying the outbreak could affect Malawi's other
      exports to the outside world.

      *****

      Country Benefits From New Banking Technologies

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      May 28, 2003
      Posted to the web May 28, 2003

      Brian Ligomeka
      Blantyre

      Reserve Bank of Malawi governor Dr Elias Ngalande says Malawi is one of
      a few developing countries in the region, which is reaping the sweet
      fruits of the modernisation of the banking industry.

      Ngalande says the modern banking technologies, which commercial banks
      in the country have adapted have made the banking industry excel in
      providing services to their customers.

      He cited the introduction of banking automation system and online
      services as some of the new sorted out problems, which most customers
      were facing before the introduction of the new technologies.

      "Today a customer with an account in Blantyre is free to draw money in
      Mzuzu and Lilongwe. Likewise cheques, which took weeks to be cleared by
      banks are now cleared within days," said Ngalande.

      He added: "The Electronic Funds Transfer, made possible by the
      existence of the Real Time Gross Settlement system, offers bank
      customers a means of transferring funds from one bank to another within
      the financial system that is faster and safer than cheques, which can
      take a long time to clear and are subject to numerous forms of forgery.
      Do you remember that it wasn't so long ago that 21 days was not unheard
      of clearing time?"

      The Central Bank governor explained that the modernisation of the
      banking sector has also enabled investors to invest in the country's
      banking industry citing Standard Bank acquisition of shares in
      Commercial Bank of Malawi and the acquisition of Fincom by Nedbank of
      South Africa.

      Ngalande said that the buying of shares in Malawi's Commercial Banks by
      Standard and Stanbic group, despite the economic problems the country is
      facing demonstrates the confidence the group has in the country's
      banking sector.

      Standard and Stanbic group has made two significant acquisitions in
      Africa in the past year.

      It acquired Uganda Commercial Bank for US$ 19.5 million and Commercial
      Bank of Malawi (CBU) for US$13.5 million.

      Standard Bank's deputy chief executive, Myles Ruck, enthuses that the
      group's performance in some African states was enhanced by lower credit
      loses due to improved recoveries and margins.

      Other factors that contributed to success include increased focuses on
      treasury functions, re-pricing, new products and a broader portfolio of
      banks creating sustainable earnings growth.

      Stanbic Africa management director, Sim Tshabalala, says the group was
      only interested in acquisitions that fit its strategy and resources.

      "We are always interested in opportunities. But we have a growth
      strategy with priorities based on the resources available," said
      Tshabalala.

      The acquisition of 60 percent stakes in the Commercial Bank of Malawi,
      a deal that was finished towards the end of 2002, confirms Stanbic's
      ambition to gain its foothold in Africa.

      CBM chief executive, Victor Mbewe, says by November this year CBM is to
      change its current image and trading name.

      "We have been a passive bank in the past.

      Now the new shareholders want a vigorous sales approach and improved
      efficiency and service delivery," Mbewe said.

      Meanwhile Stanbic is also eyeing Zambia's state owned Zambia National
      Commercial Bank.

      Both Stanbic and a fellow South African banking group, ABSA, have been
      shortlisted to acquire 51 percent in Zambia's biggest bank, which is
      being sold as part of the privatisation government is undertaking.

      *****

      Zimbabwe braces for 'final push'
      Harare
      30 May 2003 08:30
      Zimbabwe's justice minister accused opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
      on Thursday of wanting to stage a coup against President Robert Mugabe's
      government through his call for anti-government marches.

      Patrick Chinamasa told state television that Tsvangirai's call for
      Zimbabweans to rise up "in their millions" and stage "democracy marches"
      and stayaways next week constituted "high treason".

      "The clear intention behind such threatened actions is to effect a coup
      d'etat against the legitimately elected government of Zimbabwe,"
      Chinamasa was quoted as saying by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation
      (ZBC).

      Earlier, the army warned that it would forcefully quell any violence
      associated with the stayaways.

      Tsvangirai does not recognise Mugabe as the country's legitimate
      leader, following a disputed victory Mugabe had over Tsvangirai in
      elections last year. His party wants a re-run of the poll.

      Already, Tsvangirai and two other senior officials are on trial for
      treason following an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe ahead of the
      2002 election. They deny the charges, and claim they were set up.

      Chinamasa said it would be futile for Tsvangirai to try and achieve
      what he had not achieved through the alleged plot by calling for
      anti-government demonstrations.

      "Mr Tsvangirai cannot seek to achieve, through a coup d'etat or
      banditry, what he failed to achieve through the alleged attempted
      assassination of the head of state," he charged.

      The justice minister's comments came on the same day as Zimbabwe's army
      warned it would crack down forcefully on any act of violence during the
      planned mass action.

      The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) "will not be an idle observer" to
      democracy marches and street demonstrations called by the opposition
      Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), it said in a statement quoted by
      the state-run Herald newspaper.

      "Instead it will bring to bear its full force upon those perpetrators
      of uncalled-for violence," it added.

      The MDC has dubbed the mass action, scheduled to last for a week from
      June 2, the "final push" for freedom. The party blames Mugabe's
      government of mismanaging the economy and increasing hardships for all
      Zimbabweans.

      Bank notes and blood for transfusions have joined the list of
      shortages, that include basic foodstuffs. Inflation is running at 269%
      and rising.

      Although the opposition party has called for a peaceful demonstration
      next week, a job stayaway called by the MDC in March saw the
      petrol-bombing of buses and offices belonging to Mugabe's Zanu-PF
      party.

      "It is a fact that previous stayaways turned violent with both innocent
      lives of citizens and property being deliberately destroyed," the army
      said.

      The MDC has been running advertisements in the private media urging the
      armed forces not to compromise their professional neutrality by acting
      as a "private force" for Mugabe's party.

      "National security forces are not and should never play the role of
      political arbiters or judges in the people's struggle against
      dictatorship," said one opposition advert.

      Tensions are rising ahead of the planned demonstrations. Three women
      were arrested on Wednesday in central Harare as they took part in
      MDC-organised prayer sessions.

      MDC activists were distributing leaflets on Thursday, declaring that
      Zimbabweans were "living miserable lives at the hands of a regime that
      has lost all love and fear of God". - Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Zimbabwe bank prints cash to stave off 'panic'
      Harare
      30 May 2003 09:05

      The head of Zimbabwe's central bank said on Thursday the country is
      printing money "at full capacity" in an urgent bid to alleviate chronic
      cash shortages gripping the southern African nation.

      Leonard Tsumba, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, told a press
      conference that his bank is due to inject 24-billion Zimbabwe dollars
      (US$29-million) into the economy by mid-June.

      But soaring inflation rates mean the problem is likely to persist, he
      said.

      Shortages of bank notes are currently crippling operations in business
      and industry. Hundreds of people again queued on Thursday in central
      Harare in a bid to withdraw cash from banks. Banks have limited cash
      withdrawals, amid reports a black market has arisen for the local
      currency.

      Tsumba said the situation was "abnormal".

      But he said that while measures were being taken to inject fresh cash
      into the economy, the problem was likely to remain given Zimbabwe's
      soaring inflation rates.

      Inflation in Zimbabwe is now 269% and rising.

      "What we're trying to do is guard against unnecessary panic," Tsumba
      said.

      He pleaded with people and businesses to bank their cash. Many have
      been hoarding cash amid fears they will not be able to access it.

      Cash shortages first surfaced after a mass stayaway last month and new
      protests are planned for next week.

      "An economy that operates on cash alone is a retrogressive economy,"
      Tsumba said. He urged people to use cheques and credit cards more.

      A new 1 000 Zimbabwe dollar note is to be introduced in November, the
      banking official said. - Sapa-AFP
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Crackdown

        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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