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  • Christine Chumbler
    US takes Malawi al-Qaeda suspects Five suspected al-Qaeda members arrested by Malawi have been handed to US authorities, despite an injunction blocking
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jun 25, 2003
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      US takes Malawi al-Qaeda suspects

      Five suspected al-Qaeda members arrested by Malawi have been handed to
      US authorities, despite an injunction blocking deportation.
      The BBC's southern Africa correspondent, Barnaby Phillips, says the
      five suspects appear to have been whisked out of Malawi, although the
      Americans are not yet saying where they have been taken.

      On Tuesday, Malawi's High Court ruled the country's government could
      not circumvent its own laws by handing over the five detainees, who come
      from Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Turkey,

      An injunction obtained by the suspects' lawyers to block their
      deportation ordered the government either to charge the men with an
      offence within 48 hours or release them on bail.

      The 48-hour time period elapsed at 2200 local time (2000 GMT) on

      On Wednesday, a High Court judge demanded that they be freed but he was
      told they were no longer in Malawi custody.

      No trails

      Malawi's Director of Public Prosecutions, Fahad Assani, refused to
      disclose when the five Muslim foreigners had left Malawi, but denied
      that they had been deported.

      "If the Americans has intelligence linking anyone residing in the
      country to terrorism, Malawi has the duty to facilitate their arrests,"
      he told the BBC.

      He confirmed the five were no longer in the custody of Malawi

      Their lawyer, Shabir Latif, accused the government of violating its own

      A senior Malawian immigration official told Reuters news agency that he
      was travelling with the suspects.

      "I'm not in Malawi at the moment. We are out of the country. They are
      not in the custody of Malawi, they are in American custody," he said.

      State prosecutors say the five men - two from Turkey, one Saudi, one
      Sudanese and a Kenyan - were arrested in a joint operation run with US
      officials at the weekend, barely two weeks before President Bush is
      scheduled to visit Africa.

      A spokesmen for the police chief and interior ministry said that Malawi
      intelligence and immigration officers apprehended the men after they
      were identified by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

      The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre says that Malawi does not have
      an extradition treaty with the United States.


      Zambian police 'interview' controversial editor


      25 June 2003 14:43

      Zambian police on Wednesday summoned a newspaper editor for questioning
      on falsehoods about President Levy Mwanawasa published in his newspaper,
      a police source said on Wednesday.

      Police spokesperson Brenda Muntemba confirmed that Masautso Phiri,
      editor of the Today newspaper, had been summoned for "interviews" with
      the police, but declined to give details.

      But a source in the police force said Phiri was likely to face arrest
      for allegedly "publishing false news with an intention to alarm the

      Recently Today published two controversial stories about Mwanawasa. One
      story headlined Sick Levy collapses, claimed that the head of state was
      ill and had collapsed at his Lusaka home.

      Another story claimed Mwanawasa had separated from his wife after she
      had an affair with a presidential aide.

      The editor's lawyer, Sakwiba Sikota said the police summons was vague
      but he suspected his client was wanted in connection with the
      publication of the controversial stories.

      Phiri has been arrested several times before.

      He once served a three-month jail sentence for contempt of court after
      he published a story alleging that Supreme Court judges had received
      bribes from former president Frederick Chiluba. - Sapa-AFP


      Robert Mugabe's 'ruthless regime'


      25 June 2003 10:23

      African nations need to put strong pressure on Zimbabwe's government to
      end its authoritarian rule, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on
      Tuesday as the main opposition leader returned to court to face the
      first of two treason cases.

      Opposition officials say President Robert Mugabe's government has
      targeted Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai
      as part of a desperate bid to cling to power despite political and
      economic chaos roiling the nation.

      An estimated 70% of Zimbabweans are unemployed, inflation has soared to
      269%, hunger is rife and recent opposition protest efforts were thwarted
      only when police and soldiers fired tear gas and live bullets at
      assembling demonstrators.

      Writing in Tuesday's New York Times, Powell called the government "a
      ruthless regime," accused Mugabe of "violent misrule" and predicted he
      and his cronies would eventually lose their fight for power, "dragging
      their soiled record behind them into obscurity". However, Zimbabwe's
      neighbours in Africa have to step up pressure on Mugabe to ensure a
      swift end to his dictatorship and save their region from further
      instability, he said.

      "If leaders on the continent do not do more to convince President
      Robert Mugabe to respect the rule of law and enter into a dialogue with
      the political opposition, he and his cronies will drag Zimbabwe down
      until there is nothing left to ruin," he wrote.

      Powell also bemoaned the treatment of Tsvangirai, comparing him to
      Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate
      imprisoned by her government.

      For now, Tsvangirai is a free man, having been released on bail on
      Friday in the second of two separate treason cases he is fighting.

      Treason is punishable by death in Zimbabwe.

      Those charges accuse Tsvangirai, jailed for two weeks after calling for
      anti-government strikes and protests earlier this month, of advocating
      Mugabe's violent overthrow.

      In the earlier charges, which he faced in his ongoing trial on Tuesday,
      prosecutors say he and two other opposition leaders planned to
      assassinate Mugabe and sought the help of air force head Perence Shiri
      in a planned coup.

      The three deny the charges, saying they were framed by the government
      to weaken the opposition.

      Shiri told the Harare High Court on Tuesday he was approached by
      opposition officials in January last year and offered Z$10-million
      (US$182 000 at the former official exchange rate) only to "pacify" the

      Defence attorney Eric Matinenga said Shiri held two meetings with the
      officials, including the opposition's shadow defence minister, Giles
      Mutsekwa, a former army officer. He said the meetings did not deal with
      a possible coup and were called ahead of last year's presidential
      election to clarify a televised statement made by police and military
      chiefs that they would not work with Tsvangirai if he were elected.

      Shiri said armed forces chief General Vitalis Zvinavashe wrote that
      statement, which said the military would not follow a leader who had not
      fought in the bush war that led to independence in 1980 and swept Mugabe
      to power.

      "For us to maintain discipline, I cannot question what my superior
      said. He is a four-star general, I am a three-star general," Shiri

      The discussion at Shiri's Harare home with opposition officials "was
      not mainly about the elections. It was whether I would cooperate with
      the [opposition] once it assumed power," he said.

      Shiri, a senior ruling party official, said he knew the Constitution
      required the military to remain non-partisan.

      Tsvangirai was arrested and charged two weeks before the March 2001
      election, which Mugabe narrowly won.

      Independent observers said the election was swayed by
      state-orchestrated political violence and vote rigging.

      Charges in the trial are based on a secretly recorded video tape made
      in the offices of Canada-based political consultant Ari Ben Menashe. He
      claims Tsvangirai asked for help in an assassination plot and coup.

      Prosecutors say Tsvangirai again tried to topple Mugabe through this
      month's protest action.

      The opposition blames Mugabe for crippling the economy and creating
      acute shortages of fuel, food, medicine and essential imports. Mass
      famine was avoided this year only by foreign humanitarian aid. -


      Zimbabwe govt bans motorists from carrying fuel

      Harare, Cape Town

      25 June 2003 09:48

      The Zimbabwe government has banned motorists from carrying fuel in
      containers, a routine procedure in the southern African country where
      there are chronic fuel shortages, a newspaper said on Tuesday.

      The official Herald newspaper said people who wanted to transport
      containers of fuel privately would now have to obtain permission from
      the government or face arrest.

      "If, for example, someone has a funeral or is a farmer who needs
      diesel, he has to apply to the ministry to be given permission to carry
      the fuel... otherwise he will get arrested," Rueben Marumahoko, the
      Deputy Minister of Energy was quoted as saying.

      The Herald said the move was intended to stamp out a thriving black
      market for fuel, which sells for anything up to 1 700 Zimbabwe dollars
      (US$2) a litre, way above the official price of Z$450 (54 US cents) per

      But members of the public are likely to be angered by the ban.

      Motorists here often have to carry spare fuel with them on long trips
      out of cities, where they are unlikely to find fuel at service

      For the past three years Zimbabwe has faced severe fuel shortages that
      have in turn disrupted industry and commerce and caused transport
      problems for members of the public.

      Motorists sometimes have to queue for days to obtain the scarce

      The Herald reported that by Monday police at roadblocks were already
      confiscating fuel containers found in vehicles.

      Last month the government claimed it had concluded a fuel deal with
      Libya that would see the oil-rich north African country supplying
      Zimbabwe with its fuel needs by the end of June.

      Libya did provide Zimbabwe with 70% of its fuel needs, but the supply
      line was cut after Zimbabwe failed to meet its end of the bargain, which
      was to supply Libya with beef, tobacco and sugar.

      Meanwhile, in South Africa, a report of the National Assembly's
      agriculture and land portfolio committee recommends that when there is
      need for food aid in Zimbabwe, the South African parliament should back
      such a vote.

      The report released by the committee -- headed by African National
      Congress MP Neo Masithela -- on Tuesday, also noted that when the
      Parliament considered the Communal Land Rights Bill -- which is intended
      to transfer rights of title to peasants - it "should take note of and
      learn from the lessons" of the Zimbabwean land reform process.

      The recommendations follow a visit to Zimbabwe by members of the
      committee including ANC -- which constituted a majority -- and DA and
      IFP members.

      There was a consensus, it noted, among Zimbabweans including
      non-government organisations and both the opposition and ruling parties
      that land reform was a good policy and should take place "but in a
      correct way and on an equitable basis"..

      The MPs met a variety of groups including the largely white Commercial
      Farmers' Union and the black Indigenous Commercial Farmers' Union and
      the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union.

      The CFU told the MPs that during the presidential election in 2002,
      farmers were on the front line and "systematically organised commercial
      agriculture was shut down".

      "There is no doubt that while elections are high (on the go) and the
      ruling party is trying to maintain (a) grip on power ... issues of
      production are not at the forefront of policy," the CFU was reported as

      Production throughout the commercial sector, reported the CFU, had been
      reduced by 70% and is being further eroded.

      The maize production had dropped from 810 000 tons in 2000 and was
      expected to be 80 000 tons this year. Wheat had dropped from 283 00 tons
      to an expected 60 000 tons. There were 1,2-million head of livestock in
      2000, now it stood at 150 000.

      A different picture was painted by the ICFU and the ZFU which argued
      that much of the livestock however, had been slaughtered by "outgoing
      farmers slaughtering calves, cows and heifers". They put livestock
      figures at a more conservative 5,5-million having dropped from
      six-million. The discrepancy in these figures was not explained.

      The black farmers groups said the farmers who left the farms "took
      their tractors". Some were locked up "in Harare or on farms".

      But the black farmers' groups say that overall the land reform
      programme "has unlocked the agriculture potential of the country. The
      large scale farms were too large for individual farmers with utilization
      of between 25% and 40% with farms now smaller and more manageable. -
      Sapa-AFP, I-Net Bridge
    • 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.


        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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