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  • Christine Chumbler
    World Bank Funds Community-Driven Projects UN Integrated Regional Information Networks June 11, 2003 Posted to the web June 11, 2003 Johannesburg A World Bank
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jun 13, 2003
      World Bank Funds Community-Driven Projects

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      June 11, 2003
      Posted to the web June 11, 2003


      A World Bank cash injection of US $60 million aims to make a difference
      to Malawians by financing the construction of development projects that
      communities themselves have identified.

      World Bank senior agricultural services specialist, Francis Mbuka, told
      IRIN on Wednesday that the Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) was into
      its third incarnation since 1995.

      "The fund is designed to help the communities deal with their local
      problems - basically to provide services to the people in the
      communities. It's done through the communities being organised and then
      trained by MASAF to access the funds. In order to access the funds they
      have to contribute 20 percent [of project costs in cash or in kind, e.g.
      construction materials], and 80 percent is then provided by the fund for
      the identified public projects - roads, bridges, clinics, schools and so
      forth," Mbuka said.

      A World Bank statement said the bank's board had approved the funding
      on Tuesday.

      MASAF promoted a "bottom-up, demand-driven approach to development,
      supports safety net activities, facilitates capacity building for
      communities to implement demand-driven programmes, and facilitates
      investments through savings clubs," Norbert Mugwagwa, World Bank task
      manager for the programme, was quoted as saying.

      Mbuka explained that MASAF 3, as the current three-year social action
      fund was called, could make a difference to the lives of Malawi's
      vulnerable populations.

      "Malawi has a lot of vulnerable people who live below the poverty level
      and, therefore, in a year like this year [of food shortages] ... this
      programme is designed to take care of those as well," he said.

      The programme had components to help ensure assistance to vulnerable
      groups such as widows and widowers, the elderly, malnourished children
      aged under five, orphans and their foster parents, the disabled, and
      persons affected by HIV/AIDS.

      "There are three major sections to the MASAF. The first is the PWPs -
      public works programmes - which help vulnerable groups to get jobs in
      their own villages, doing road works, for example. For this they get
      paid a minimum wage that would help them meet their food requirements
      while working their own gardens. So, they would work part of the day at
      a MASAF programme, and then they go to work in their own gardens - it's
      really a good safety net," Mbuka explained.

      The second part of the MASAF was the "SSP - sponsored sub-project -
      where finances would go to an NGO to help vulnerable groups like AIDS
      patients, orphans, the disabled, people like that".

      Mbuka explained that the NGOs identified vulnerable people and would
      apply for funds, "and say 'look we would like to help with ABC', and if
      MASAF is satisfied with that, then the funds are disbursed to the
      community, on the understanding that the community should have taken
      part in the design of that [assistance] programme".

      The third aspect of the MASAF was the community sub-project (CSP).
      "This is where the community involvement is the key: the community
      identify that they have a need, they define their programme, set up
      objectives and targets, and form a committee which looks after the
      affairs of the CSP project," Mbuka said.

      "All MASAF's experiences will be documented and analysed, and the
      knowledge gained will be used for training and shared, to better improve
      other communities and projects," the World Bank added.


      Fear stalks Zimbabwe's streets


      13 June 2003 15:37

      The state has opposed Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's
      bail application, as he readies to spend an eighth night in jail on
      Friday, but his continued detention without trial on treason charges has
      drawn no reaction from ordinary Zimbabweans, who live in fear of arrest
      and repression by the security forces.

      Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was
      arrested on June 6, the last day of week-long nationwide protests called
      for by the opposition against the government of President Robert Mugabe.
      The state on Thursday refused his application for bail.

      The MDC blames the government for the severe economic and social
      hardships gripping the country, including food, fuel and money

      Last week's protests took the form of work stoppages, which brought
      many Zimbabwean cities to a halt, and were supposed to include peaceful
      marches "for democracy".

      But the marches never go off the ground, as security forces turned out
      in force, and feared pro-government youth groups roamed the streets of
      the southern African country.

      Hundreds of opposition supporters, activists and officials were
      arrested or assaulted by state agents during the week of mass action.

      Tsvangirai was on Tuesday charged with treason as well as inciting
      public violence. He was accused of urging Zimbabweans to oust Mugabe and
      his government at rallies held before the week of protests.

      The latest treason charges, which can carry the death penalty on
      conviction, are the second to be brought against Tsvangirai.

      He is currently on trial with two other senior MDC officials charged
      with high treason for allegedly plotting to eliminate Mugabe ahead of
      the 2002 presidential elections, won by Mugabe.

      The court that charged Tsvangirai on Tuesday also ordered that he
      remain in prison until July 10, but gave him leave to apply for bail.

      He was held at Harare central police station for four days before being
      moved to the capital's crowded, dilapidated jail.

      Tsvangirai's lawyers filed for bail before Harare High Court on
      Wednesday, but the application hearing went into its third day Friday,
      and the union leader turned opposition chief looked likely to spend a
      second weekend behind bars.

      Meanwhile, there was no sign of protest on the part of opposition
      backers to show their anger at their leader's arrest and continued

      But, says the MDC, opposition backers have been wise to hold back.

      When Tsvangirai was arrested, the MDC accused the government of trying
      to provoke a popular outcry, which would then have been fanned until it
      became violent protests, giving the government the ideal excuse to "ban
      and crush" the MDC.

      As recently as Thursday, when Tsvangirai's bail hearing was into its
      second day, the MDC urged its activists and sympathisers to "remain calm
      in the face of open provocation".

      Memories are still fresh in the minds of Zimbabweans of the repressive
      measures taken to crush last week's planned street marches.

      At least one opposition supporter died, another was shot and injured
      while hundreds of others were arrested, often under violent

      Would-be protesters were dispersed by police firing teargas or charging
      them and beating them with the butts of their guns or batons. Students
      on the University of Harare campus were roughed up.

      Adding to the misery endured last week by ordinary Zimbabweans are the
      obligatory long hours of waiting in line for even the most mundane of

      Almost every native of this southern African country has for months had
      to queue for hours for food, petrol, a bus to go to work, and money from
      the bank, as Zimbabwe continues its downward spiral into unemployment
      – 70% are out of work -- and inflation climbs ever higher. It is
      now at nearly 300% per

      A food crisis sparked by chaotic land reforms, which have seen farms
      seized from whites and redistributed to landless blacks, and a serious
      drought has left 5,5-million of the country's 11,6-million people in
      need of food aid.

      But the president has continually denied holding any responsibility for
      Zimbabwe's multi-pronged crisis. Instead, Mugabe, who has ruled the
      country for 23 years, blames the country's woes on the MDC and its
      foreign backers, notably
      former colonial power Britain and the US, who have, he says, but one
      objective: to oust him and set up a pro-British government.

      On Thursday, Mugabe threatened to expel the British ambassador to
      Harare, Brian Donnelly, accusing him of being behind last week's
      anti-government protests. - Sapa-AFP


      Mugabe threatens UK envoy

      Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has threatened to expel Britain's
      ambassador in Harare, accusing him of helping opposition protests.
      "We know that the British have been behind it. They are giving them
      money, we know that. That's why I warn Donnelly, if he continues doing
      it, we will kick him out of this country," Mr Mugabe told supporters,
      naming Britain's envoy, High Commissioner Brian Donnelly.

      His comments made at a public rally in the south-east of the country
      follow last week's demonstrations and strikes organised by the Movement
      for Democratic Change (MDC).

      In London, officials have denied any suggestion that the government is
      supporting illegal activity in Zimbabwe and said Britain supported the
      principle of democracy and the right to peaceful protest.

      This latest threat against Britain is all part of Mr Mugabe's message
      that he will not tolerate mass demonstrations in Zimbabwe aimed at
      pressurising him to stand down, says the BBC's Hilary Andersson in

      Blaming Britain

      Relations between Britain and Zimbabwe have plummeted in recent years.

      Mr Mugabe now rarely makes a public speech without blaming Zimbabwe's
      troubles on its former colonial master.

      He has accused Britain of having a colonial and racist agenda to back
      Zimbabwe's white farmers, many of whom have lost their land due to the
      government's controversial land redistribution programme.

      Zimbabwe is deeply divided between supporters of Mr Mugabe and
      supporters of the opposition, but the anti-British message has some
      appeal in the country, where for years most of the land has been in
      white hands.


      Zambia ministers lose pay rise

      By Penny Dale
      BBC, Lusaka, Zambia

      The new vice-president of Zambia, Dr Nevers Mumba, has announced that
      the cabinet has agreed to cut back their salaries by 30%.

      The unprecedented move comes just months after they were awarded a 30%
      rise and is an attempt by President Levy Mwanawasa to keep the economy
      afloat at a time when the country's wage bill has spiralled out of

      Dr Mumba told journalists at a press conference on Thursday that the
      government has done this to show leadership in the management of the
      nation's resources, and ensure the sustainability of the economic

      The government is hoping to score political points with a public that
      complains constantly about fat-cat politicians and their hefty salaries
      and allowances.

      Debt relief

      But the move is also designed to keep the economy out of trouble as
      Zambia enters the final phase of wiping out half of its external debt
      under the World Bank's Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) programme.

      At stake is about $3.5 billion in debt relief in line for Zambia if the
      government shows that it has sustained economic reform, including
      reducing the wage bill, for 12 months by the deadline of December.

      But, according to the vice president, the government is not doing this
      just to satisfy the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

      The deeply religious Dr Mumba said that the belt-tightening operation
      is also about morality.

      Skimpy resources

      He explained that the time has come for the government to look at
      whether it is spending its skimpy resources in the best way.

      Over the next few weeks, other government officials will also be asked
      to give up some of their monthly pay as the government tries to reduce
      the rising budget deficit.

      The vice-president said he has already held constructive talks with
      union leaders, at which he briefed them on the state of affairs.

      So after a 30% increase earlier this year, from 1 July the cabinet will
      be back to square one, with the president earning $700 a month.


      Food aid hits Zambian farmers

      There have been complaints in Zambia that the UN's food agency is
      distributing aid that is no longer needed.

      Former Zambian agriculture minister, Guy Scott, told the BBC that the
      last year's drought was now over and after a good harvest there was now
      food available all over the country.

      But World Food Programme spokeswoman Judith Lewis says there are still
      pockets where people needed food aid or could not afford to buy the food
      now on the market.

      "We've got to be sure that we don't leave these people behind. And so
      that's what we're trying to look after - those pockets and those most
      vulnerable people who are still at risk in Zambia.

      She says the needs are particularly acute among HIV-affected families
      and also in the southern district where there was not a good harvest.


      But Mr Scott says that World Food Programme deliveries were delayed in
      arriving and what they are doing now is artificially cutting the food
      prices paid to commercial farmers.

      "People are being targeted with food aid right in the middle of a
      bumper harvest," he said.

      Genetically modified food aid was sent to Southern Africa during the
      drought, despite strong reservations expressed in Africa.

      But Zambia banned the aid, saying it would rather go hungry than risk
      losing its export markets in Europe because its crops had been
      contaminated with GM seed.

      The drought in Southern Africa is now over, but Zimbabwe's agricultural
      sector in particular remains in a poor state, after the government
      implemented a widely criticised fast track programme of transferring
      land ownership from white into black hands.
    • 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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