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  • Christine Chumbler
    Officials Issue Fresh Warning Following More Lion Attacks African Church Information Service June 30, 2003 Posted to the web July 1, 2003 Hamilton Vokhiwa
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jul 2 6:37 AM
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      Officials Issue Fresh Warning Following More Lion Attacks

      African Church Information Service

      June 30, 2003
      Posted to the web July 1, 2003

      Hamilton Vokhiwa
      Blantyre

      Officials of Malawi's Department of National Parks and Wildlife have
      renewed a warning that people living near game reserves should move in
      groups or seek help from the authorities before passing by the parks to
      avoid being attacked.

      The warning follows growing fears of more attacks by wild animals on
      people living around national parks and game reserves in the country.

      Director of National Parks and Wildlife, Leonard Sefu, reacting to a
      recent incident in which a man was killed by a lion while cycling along
      a lone path near Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi, said people
      should heed the government warning to avoid further attacks.

      The latest attack brought the number of persons killed by lions to
      eight throughout the country this year.

      In February, villagers around Kasungu and Nkhotakota national parks in
      central Malawi, were living in fear after lions that went loose devoured
      at least seven persons.

      One lion was killed by game hunters following the incidents, but it was
      feared that three others were still on the loose.

      Marauding animals in Malawi include hyenas, which also attack people in
      various parts of the country, the most notorious being Ntcheu district
      in the south, where the beasts are associated with superstition.

      It is alleged that magicians turn into hyenas to steal other people's
      livestock such as goats and pigs. Incidents of hyenas killing people
      have also been reported in Blantyre, and Dowa districts in southern and
      central Malawi respectively.

      *****

      US Funds Nacala Corridor Upgrade

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      July 1, 2003
      Posted to the web July 1, 2003

      Johannesburg

      US Secretary of State Colin Powell observed the signing of a memorandum
      of understanding on Friday between the governments of Mozambique,
      Malawi, and Zambia for the rehabilitation of the port and rail
      facilities of the Nacala transport corridor.

      The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation will provide nearly US
      $30 million in financing to rehabilitate the port and rail facilities of
      the corridor. The rail line runs from the deep-water port of Nacala on
      the Indian Ocean in northern Mozambique, through landlocked Malawi, and
      on to eastern Zambia.

      "This will be the first integrated port and rail operation to be
      operated by the same concession in Africa, and represents a new era for
      US investment in Africa. The efficient operation of the Nacala line will
      have a substantial multiplier effect as transportation costs and times
      will fall, encouraging investment in diverse areas, such as agriculture
      and mining, to the three countries," a statement from the US Corporate
      Council on Africa said.

      The official Mozambique news agency, AIM, reported that the US is
      particularly interested in the Nacala corridor because two US companies,
      Edlow Resources and the American Railroad Corporation, are members of
      CDN, the consortium that won the tender to manage the line.

      Former Mozambican defence minister Alberto Chipande is chairman of the
      CDN board.

      *****

      Wanted: $308m food aid for Southern Africa

      Johannesburg

      02 July 2003 14:06

      The World Food Programme on Wednesday launched an urgent appeal for
      $308-million's worth of food aid -- in cash or kind -- for six countries
      in southern Africa.

      WFP Southern Africa regional director Mike Sackett repeated a call made
      earlier in the day by his executive director, Jim Morris, in Geneva,
      that the need for food aid remained substantial due to erratic weather
      patterns, deteriorating economies and the devastating impact of
      HIV/Aids.

      "As long as people lack the resources to cope in times of crisis, they
      will remain vulnerable to natural disasters such as flood and drought,
      economic and political turmoil, and the HIV/Aids pandemic," Morris told
      an earlier media conference.

      "HIV/Aids is striking down farmers in southern Africa before they get a
      chance to plant their crops and regain the food security that was eroded
      over the last year."

      Officials added that erratic rainfall was often a more severe problem
      than drought as it caused crop failure which wiped out seed reserves.

      "The agency is asking for $308-million (around R2,3-billion) to fund
      close to 540 000 tons of food, enough to feed 6,5-million people until
      June of next year," Sackett told journalists at a media conference in
      Johannesburg.

      Countries that would benefit from the 2003 programme were Lesotho,
      Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Up to 64% of the
      food aid would be directed to Zimbabwe, up from 41% last year.

      A further 21% would go to flood-ravaged southern Mozambique (up from
      five percent) while the contribution to the other four countries
      benefiting from the programme would fall to 15% from 54%.

      A separate programme was in effect for Angola, where former Unita
      rebels were also receiving WFP food aid while awaiting resettlement by
      the government there. - Sapa

      *****

      Trade unions vow to paralyse Zambian government

      Lusaka

      02 July 2003 14:56

      The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has threatened to paralyse
      the government if it cuts or freezes wages for public service workers
      and civil servants, state media reported on Wednesday.

      The powerful ZCTU was responding to acting Finance Minister George
      Kunda's announcement on Tuesday that the government will reduce salaries
      and freeze wage negotiations with civil servants in
      an effort to close a $124-million budget deficit.

      Leonard Hikaumba of the ZCTU said if the government goes ahead with the
      plan, it would face nationwide industrial unrest on a scale never seen
      before.

      Hikaumba said workers had already sacrificed enough and government
      should look elsewhere to finance the deficit.

      The Zambian government is under pressure from the International
      Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other western donors to balance the
      budget deficit caused in part by a large government payroll.

      The donors have threatened to suspend aid to the country unless the
      government explains how it will finance the deficit without shifting
      funds from priority poverty reduction programmes. The IMF has already
      refused to release $100-million in aid.

      Recently, the government awarded both civil servants and public service
      workers wage increases and housing allowances after a prolonged
      countrywide work stoppage that nearly crippled all essential government
      operations.

      Civil society and opposition political parties have urged President
      Levy Mwanawasa to reduce his 69-member cabinet instead of cutting wages
      for civil servants and public service workers. - Sapa-DPA

      *****

      US slams 'racist' Zimbabwe

      The United States has condemned "racial slurs" made against Secretary
      of State Colin Powell in the state-controlled media.
      One editorial in The Herald accused Mr Powell of being an "Uncle Tom" -
      a reference to the servile black hero of the American novel "Uncle Tom's
      Cabin - who "dances to the tune of his masters".

      This followed his call last week for Zimbabwe's neighbours to increase
      their pressure on President Robert Mugabe to observe the rule of law.

      Mr Powell also promised massive aid to Zimbabwe "with the president
      [Robert Mugabe] gone".

      Mr Mugabe says that he is standing up for the rights of Zimbabwe's
      black majority by seizing white-owned land and giving it to poor black
      farmers.

      He says that Zimbabwe's economic problems are the result of a western
      plot to bring down his government.

      Government mouthpieces

      "The Embassy of the United States of America ... registers its profound
      disgust at the use of racial slurs with respect to Secretary of State
      Colin Powell," said a statement released by the embassy in the Zimbabwe
      capital, Harare.

      Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo called Mr Powell a "liar"
      for his description of human rights abuses by the government.

      Another article in the state-run Sunday Mail claimed that Mr Powell had
      not written the article.

      Both The Herald and the Sunday Mail are widely seen as government
      mouthpieces.

      "The Herald and the Sunday Mail would serve their readers better by
      addressing those serious issues rather than resorting to personal
      attacks on critics of the regime," the statement said.

      Mr Powell said President Mugabe had no legitimacy or moral authority.

      The US does not recognise the official results of last year's
      presidential elections, which were criticised by observer groups.

      *****

      President Bush Readies for Africa Visit

      By GEORGE GEDDA
      The Associated Press
      Wednesday, July 2, 2003; 5:48 AM


      WASHINGTON - Of the first 42 American presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill
      Clinton are the only ones to make extended visits to Africa.

      On Monday, it will be George W. Bush's turn.

      The president is going to five countries next week - Senegal, South
      Africa, Botswana, Nigeria and Uganda - on a journey in which he will
      emphasize the positive he sees on a continent laden with the negative:
      chronic underdevelopment, misrule, health crises and a penchant for
      destructive conflict.

      Four of the five - Senegal, South Africa, Botswana and Nigeria - have
      established stable democracies. Uganda has perhaps the best record in
      Africa for reducing the HIV/AIDS infection rate.

      "We believe that this can be a decade of unprecedented advancement for
      freedom and hope and healing and peace across the African continent,"
      Bush said in a speech last week.

      "On the path to freedom, and with the friendship of the United States
      and other nations, Africa will rise, and Africa will prosper," he said.

      His speech seemed to some to underestimate the depth of the continent's
      problems. He barely mentioned corruption, one of Africa's most
      troublesome issues.

      Bush foreshadowed the issues he will highlight on the trip, mentioning
      some of his pet initiatives. He touted in particular his proposed 50
      percent increase in foreign aid under what he calls the Millennium
      Challenge Account (MCA).

      Bush initially set forth the proposal in March 2002 but not much has
      happened since then. No funds have been authorized as yet. Beyond that,
      full funding of the account - $5 billion - would not occur until 2006.

      The administration has requested $1.3 billion in Millennium Challenge
      money for 2004. And even assuming Congress goes along, it is not at all
      clear what percentage will be earmarked for African countries, which
      must compete for these funds with other regions.

      A more immediate pre-departure issue for Bush is whether humanitarian
      U.S. intervention is warranted in Liberia, where years of civil war have
      displaced 1 million people. The international clamor for the United
      States to lead a peacekeeping force to Liberia has increased steadily in
      recent days.

      With reference to Liberia as well as war-torn Congo, Bush said in his
      speech that the establishment of peace and security on the continent is
      a priority U.S. goal.

      But Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, said Bush's
      claim lacks credibility. The president, he said, has shown little
      interest in solving the conflict in Congo, where 3.3 million people have
      died since 1998 in a war fueled by ethnic hatreds, competition for
      resources and outside intervention.

      "The U.S. has been unwilling to bring pressure to bear," Booker said.

      But Booker gives Bush credit for his overall approach to Africa. Bush,
      he said, "is trying to position himself as the most committed president
      over all of his predecessors."

      Indeed, the centerpiece of Bush's policy is the fight against AIDS. In
      his speech, Bush alluded to the five-year, $15 billion anti-AIDS war
      chest - for use mostly in Africa - that he signed this spring.

      "This is one of the largest public health projects in history. America
      is proud to be a part of this cause, and we are absolutely determined to
      see it through until we have turned the tide against AIDS in Africa," he
      said.

      On trade, Bush sees the glass more half full than half empty. He noted
      approvingly that reduced restrictions on U.S. imports from Africa
      permitted a 10 percent increase to $9 billion last year.

      He did not mention that the most of the benefits accrued to only a few
      African countries. And two-way trade represents only an infinitesimally
      small fraction of U.S. trade worldwide. Oil accounts for the great bulk
      of U.S. imports from Africa; three countries in particular dominate -
      Nigeria, Angola and Gabon.

      Africa often has difficulty competing in the non-oil trade because of
      poverty, the lack of capital, obsolete machinery, insufficient raw
      materials, low labor productivity and inadequate infrastructure.
    • 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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