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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi Wildlife Officer Hurt Arresting Ivory Traffickers Charles Mkoka, Environmental News Service August 28, 2003 BLANTYRE, Malawi, - A joint operation
    Message 1 of 1046 , Sep 16, 2003
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      Malawi Wildlife Officer Hurt Arresting Ivory Traffickers
      Charles Mkoka, Environmental News Service
      August 28, 2003
      BLANTYRE, Malawi, - A joint operation involving
      Malawi's Anti-Corruption Bureau, national wildlife officials, and the
      police last week raided seven houses in search of ivory in the Ntaja,
      Namwera and Katuli areas in the Machinga district of southern Malawi.
      The raid came three weeks after a woman residing in the district was
      arrested and found in possession of ivory weighing 134 kilograms (295
      pounds). Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife Humphrey Nzima
      confirmed
      the details in an interview with ENS from the Malawi Department of
      National Parks and Wildlife headquarters in Lilongwe.
      The operation involved four anti-corruption officers, 20 police
      officers, and 20 parks and wildlife staffers who searched the areas
      where ivory traffickers are believed to be keeping large quantities
      buried underground for sale to interested people, especially
      foreigners.
      Last week's operation was conducted cautiously as all officers are
      remembering how one of their fellows was seriously injured an
      anti-poaching exercise in Ntaja area just three weeks ago. The
      encounter, called one of the worst in the country's history of ivory
      confiscation and law enforcement, was nearly fatal for a Malawi
      Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) officer who has
      worked
      with the department for 20 years.
      Gervas Thamala, park manager for Liwonde National Park, went on the
      ivory anti-poaching exercise after receiving a tip from informants
      that
      Maria Akimu, 38, who hails from Idana village in the Machinga
      district,
      was in possession of ivory, contrary to the Malawi National Park and
      Wildlife Act of 1992.
      The exercise was conducted by Thamala, Kharika Banda, a parks and
      wildlife assistant, and David Bradfield, an expatriate attached to the
      Frankfurt Zoological Society project in the park that trains wildlife
      personnel in law enforcement.
      In an interview with ENS, Thamala disclosed the events surrounding the
      most dangerous mission in his career.
      The three men disguised themselves as ivory buyers from Blantyre,
      using
      a private vehicle in order to fool the suspects into revealing that
      they
      were in possession of the ivory.
      The officers forced the suspected sellers to reveal their friends in
      the
      illegal business by challenging them to produce even a mere 300
      kilograms (661 pounds) of ivory.
      Thamala told the suspect woman that they wanted enough ivory to fill a
      container that they would then export to a country in southern Africa
      for sale. The three disguised officers demanded the ivory in bulk
      amounts.
      Thamala said that hell broke loose after he told Akimu and her father,
      "We are Parks and Wildlife officers, and you are under arrest for
      possession of illegal ivory." While he was restraining Maria's father
      Blackson Akimu, he was hit several times on the head with a heavy
      pestle, a tool used for grinding maize.
      Bradfield then shot into the air to prevent Thamala from being
      butchered
      by an oncoming panga, a large curved knife, aimed at his head.
      Now out of the hospital, Thamala told ENS from the park headquarters
      at
      Chinguni, "I just heard David calling me while lying in a pool of
      blood
      after being beaten in the head from the back by a big pestle. I heard
      the sound of a gunshot, but since I was lying down and in the course
      of
      losing my consciousness, I could not confirm it."
      Hearing the shouting, a backup team of scouts armed with M16-A1
      assault
      rifles, who were hiding some 400 meters (435 yards) away in a vehicle,
      rolled into action to assist their buddies.
      They rescued Thamala, who was then unconscious, and drove him some 50
      kilometers (30 miles) away for medical attention. Thamala was admitted
      to Machinga District Hospital and diagnosed with broken blood vessels
      and internal bleeding. He was discharged after a week in hospital.
      The accused were handed over to Liwonde police and charged with ivory
      possession and trading, and assault. The suspects, currently out on
      bail, have pleaded not guilty.
      A source involved in both ivory sting operations, speaking on
      condition
      of anonymity, told ENS that when they visited Akimu, she admitted that
      she was in possession of ivory. Using her scale, the ivory was weighed
      at 134 kilograms. The buyers offered to pay her MK201,000 ($2,010) for
      the 10 pieces - all that she had. She then told the source that a
      certain
      man was keeping about a ton of ivory several kilometers away in the
      Namwera
      area near the neighboring
      Mangochi District.
      Thamala said that some foreigners who are working on the construction
      of
      the Machinga-Ntaja road also had some ivory stored away. At one of the
      places used for storage of road construction equipment, known as the
      Kuwait CC Camp, two tusks were reportedly produced.
      Akimu had established a good relationship with the foreigners which
      she
      revealed to Thamala when he was still disguised as an ivory buyer. "In
      May, Maria Akimu showed me from her diary that she had sold ivory to
      the
      foreigners for MK173, 000 (about US$1,730), and in June she sold ivory
      worth MK152,000($1,520)," Thamala told ENS.
      "We believe that the ivory is illegally being exported to the Far East
      and that it is being sourced from neighboring Mozambique, Tanzania and
      Zambia," Thamala said.
      According to Alphius Lipiya, the parks and wildlife officer
      responsible
      for wildlife management at DNPW Headquarters in Lilongwe, six pieces
      of
      the ivory belonged to Maria Akimu, and four were for her father
      Blackson
      Akimu.
      Lipiya said the violent arrest will not deter officers from going
      after
      ivory traders again. "The department of parks and wildlife is ready to
      pounce again in case of any tip-offs and nothing will stand in its
      way,
      whatever the case it may be," he said.
      Environmentalists have expressed concerns that Malawi is being used as
      a
      conduit for raw ivory that is being illegally trafficked to the Middle
      East and the Far East.
      At this time last year, a container full of ivory was intercepted in
      Malawi. Authorities believe this shipment involved high profile
      individuals who have international networks, and they were attempting
      to
      ship the ivory to Singapore en route to Japan. They had proper
      documents
      that resembled those required for a legal shipment, but officials
      found
      raw ivory inside the container.
      Deputy Director Nzima acknowledged in an interview on Monday that
      anti-poaching efforts by the DNPW have been centered in protected
      areas
      alone.
      "There is no formal investigation unit in national parks and that
      leaves
      loopholes for traffickers to perpetuate illegal ivory trading," Nzima
      explained.
      To combat ivory trafficking Nzima said that the National Parks
      department needs to create links with police, the Anti-Corruption
      Bureau, and community policing units.
      He reiterated the need for National Parks to have an investigation
      unit
      to increase its effectiveness on the ground and to tighten controls
      that
      are completely porous. "There is a need to distinguish between legal
      and
      illegal trade," said Nzima.
      He said that the department needs the support of all Malawians from
      all
      economic sectors if it is to fulfill its objectives.
      Malawi has been a party to the Convention in International Trade in
      Endangered Species (CITIES) since 1982. CITES instituted a global ban
      on
      ivory trade in 1990 so that the remaining elephant populations in
      wildlife heartlands are protected.
      Although a Party to the CITES Convention, Malawi holds a reservation
      against listing of its elephant population in Appendix I, which bans
      all
      trade in elephants or their parts.
      While Malawi does not allow elephants to be hunted, provision is made
      in
      the National Park and Wildlife Act to designate any "protected
      species"
      as a "game species," and this option may be exercised in the future
      for
      elephants.

      *****

      Zim police raid offices of independent paper

      Harare

      16 September 2003 11:36




      Police in Zimbabwe on Tuesday raided the offices of the country's sole
      independent daily newspaper, shut since Friday for operating illegally,
      and began to confiscate equipment, company officials said.

      "Police are seizing our assets right now," company lawyer Gugulethu
      Moyo said.

      The Daily News, which is fiercely critical of President Robert Mugabe's
      government, was forcibly shut down last week, accused of operating
      illegally because it had not registered with a state-appointed media
      commission.

      Under Zimbabwe's strict media laws all news organisations, newspapers
      and journalists have to be registered with a government media commission
      -- something the Daily News has refused to do, saying mandatory
      registration with the state-appointed commission was unconstitutional.

      The paper was due to file an urgent application in the High Court on
      Tuesday to get its offices reopened, a lawyer said.

      "We are still working on the papers and we expect to file the
      application and serve the papers [on the police] later this
      morning," the paper's legal adviser, Gugulethu Moyo, said before the
      morning raid.

      The chief executive of the Daily News, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, was also
      likely to appear in court on Tuesday on charges of illegally operating a
      newspaper.

      Nkomo said he had been asked to report to the central police station in
      Harare on Tuesday.

      "I have been asked to come to the charge office right now," he said.

      "I don't know if it is a prelude to the court appearance or if it is
      for further charges or maybe to be locked up".

      Police on Friday raided the Daily News offices and printing presses and
      ordered everyone out of the building, a day after the Supreme Court
      ruled that the paper was operating illegally.

      The paper has since applied to register with the commission but
      Information Minister Jonathan Moyo told state television on Monday that
      the application was incomplete.

      The closure of the paper has been condemned both in Zimbabwe and
      internationally. -- Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Zimbabwe inflation hits 427%

      Harare

      16 September 2003 08:23


      Inflation in Zimbabwe hit a highest-to-date 426,6% for the year up to
      the end of August, according to figures issued on Monday by the
      government's Central Statistical Office (CSO).

      The rise from 399,5% for the year up to the end of July was the third
      highest this year. In the last month, household maintenance costs were
      up 39%, bread and cereals were up 30,4% and the cost of meat rose by
      24%.

      In the last year, the CSO figures said, cooking oil had gone up 759%,
      shoes by 582%, public transport by 460% and cigarettes by 453%.

      However, analysts say the figures are conservative. They say the CSO
      measures prices of commodities as they fixed by the government, and not
      by the illegal black-market prices at which most basic commodities are
      available.

      Zimbabwe is classified as having the fastest shrinking economy in the
      world as a result of reckless economic policies dictated by ageing
      president Robert Mugabe, and the destruction of the country's
      agricultural industry as he drove about 4 500 white farmers from their
      property in the name of his "revolutionary land reform programme".

      Economists say the regime has taken no serious action to curtail
      inflation, but insists on maintaining price controls, low inflation
      rates, big budget deficits and vast subsidies.

      Thousands of Zimbabweans sleep on the streets of the capital each night
      in the hope of being able to draw small amounts of cash in a banknote
      shortage unprecedented anywhere in the world.

      Reports at the weekend said the currency had lost so much value that
      prostitutes were now offering their services in exchange for groceries
      rather than cash. In June, the United Nations ranked Zimbabwe 90th in
      the list of the world's 94 poorest countries. -- Sapa-DPA
    • 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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