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RE: [ujeni] Update from France

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  • Luz Huntington
    John, I did not know you well in Peace Corps but I did want to say that your wedding picture is lovely!! You two make a very attractive couple and I hope you
    Message 1 of 1046 , Dec 10, 2003
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      John,
      I did not know you well in Peace Corps but I did want to say that your
      wedding picture is lovely!! You two make a very attractive couple and I hope
      you will be very happy.

      Luz


      >From: John Patten <jppatten98@...>
      >Reply-To: ujeni@yahoogroups.com
      >To: ujeni@yahoogroups.com
      >Subject: [ujeni] Update from France
      >Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2003 23:56:34 -0800 (PST)
      >
      >Hi Vyrle,
      >
      >I had just been thinking about sending an update as I
      >just got married to Eriko, whom I met in Nkhotakota
      >(photo attached). We live in South Africa and just got
      >back from our honeymoon in France. I attached below
      >the letter we sent to friends and relatives after the
      >wedding last month of our time in France if anyone is
      >interested in that update. It's a bit long, so please
      >disregard if not interested. We're fine here and would
      >love visitors if anyone is coming this way. I hope
      >everyone is well and will let us know how they are
      >doing too.
      >
      >Cheers,
      >JP
      >
      >Hi Everyone,
      >
      >I promised a full update on the honeymoon in France,
      >but first we would like to thank all of you again who
      >shared in our wedding day. We�ll write you all
      >individually when we get settled in our new house. We
      >appreciate that it took a lot of time, effort and
      >expense on everyone�s part to come. For our friends in
      >various places around the world who were not there we
      >still want to share the experience and have included a
      >couple of photos. The term doesn�t get used too much
      >anymore, but it was truly a joyous day, for us and
      >everyone else as it appears, and also served as a
      >couple of great family reunions that week. We already
      >have a lifetime of memories. I don�t think things
      >could have turned out better had we written a script
      >for the whole day. Right down to singing you all away
      >on the tram to �Happy Trails.� The raindrops even held
      >out until it was just me and Eriko in the empty
      >parking lot as we were stuffing her dress into my
      >truck. The only thing we would change is the way the
      >day flew by too fast. We have lots of pictures to
      >exchange with people, which has been quite fun so far.
      >An early classic, which goes back to time immemorial
      >at weddings and was promised by Nostradamus in an
      >early 16th century quatrain which talks about �ye who
      >will come unto the earth and bite the floor at the
      >reception,� was gracefully fulfilled by my folks with
      >the assistance of our throwing the fresh rose petals
      >on the dance floor. Or, as my friend David famously
      >remarked, �Was that in lieu of the traditional
      >spreading of the motor oil?� Thanks again to everyone
      >and your efforts.
      >
      >Now, France. Two words- way cool. They could be a
      >world power someday. I never once had to bring up
      >Normandy and they never had to remind me that if we
      >want to go back that far, without Lafayette and a host
      >of others we�d still be eating bangers and mash and
      >have poor dental care (what have you done for me
      >lately!). We absolutely loved Paris and France in
      >general. Maybe because there was no summer garbage and
      >transit strike. The people were very nice to us, even
      >in the tourist areas. Some old stereotypes seemed not
      >to really apply, some new ones might. They have this
      >longsuffering patience with the tourists for the most
      >part and did an admirable job of not rolling their
      >eyes. Maybe they�re hoping some of their culture will
      >rub off on us barbarians. The service people often do
      >famously ignore you, but it�s more a cultural quirk;
      >as soon as you took the responsibility to state that
      >you needed assistance people were very helpful. When
      >we were frenetically searching for the Bastille, the
      >kind gentleman patiently informed us that they tore it
      >down after the Revolution in 1789. It�s now a busy
      >roundabout with a nice pole marker in the middle, but
      >I didn�t want to get hit by the #2 bus to Montparnasse
      >to view it. Turns out the apartment block we were
      >viewing was probably just dirty and had old fixtures
      >on the basement windows.
      >
      >The massive old stone buildings all over the cities
      >are impressive and you can really feel a sense of long
      >history. Most of these were older than our country.
      >Actually, they had some wine in storage older than our
      >country. The buildings had intricate stone work and
      >statues (when Eriko kept asking who that statue was I
      >kept saying probably some French guy), along with
      >those great balconies with the curly iron fencing
      >which are amazing. I must confess my limited knowledge
      >of French architecture was from �Pepe le Pew� cartoons
      >back in the 70s, and those were certainly very
      >intermittent during the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner hour. I
      >like �Old Europe� and still think they have a lot to
      >offer. We were surrounded by history, but because
      >there were no English explanations it was difficult to
      >tell exactly what was what. Even with the push for
      >preserving the French language, which permeates
      >everything (many Afghans have better English skills);
      >we still got around ok as traveling has a certain
      >logic. I can see why the French can be a little upset
      >over their dwindling influence in the past few decades
      >in light of walking around such a still great city.
      >It�s hard to lose your empire when all around is
      >memory. We tend to dynamite our old stuff down and not
      >make a big fuss about it, plus the explosions are
      >cool, although in 200 years I don�t think French
      >tourists will be coming here to view a former Payless
      >shoe store that�s now a civil service building. Maybe
      >they�re shifting their focus away from us and turning
      >it to bullying the EU and little old ladies selling
      >maize at the markets in absurdly French speaking rural
      >Mali (Viva la Timbuktou!).
      >
      >We must have done a walking tour of three-quarters of
      >Paris and saw a lot of museums. To have my face a foot
      >away from so many famous paintings I�ve seen in books
      >was quite amazing. I always loved the impressionists,
      >but with so much on offer side by side I could trace
      >the years and see how people like Delacroix, Ingres,
      >and Degas influenced the later, currently more
      >renowned painters. I�m no art critic though. I like
      >what I think looks cool with talent. Abstract art to
      >me is still a lot of hoidy-toidys putting each other
      >on. When I see an old bed frame stapled to the wall,
      >the only message I get is, �uh-oh, I have a Friday
      >deadline, I better come up with something.� Nobody
      >ever paid me twenty grand to come and view my storage
      >unit, which is probably more interesting and could
      >tell a lot more stories (how sublime the essence of
      >the dusty book boxes permeating form, space and line
      >to transcend�shaddap!). We did see whole wings of
      >Napoleon stuff, including his tomb, and it seems this
      >year he�s back to being slightly this side of admired
      >rather than being a nutcase. Ask again in ten years.
      >But boy did he have a complex or what? There�s a
      >complex with his name all over it. How would you like
      >to have so much of a complex that they name a complex
      >after you? There must be other ways to get famous. I
      >still feel sorry for Plato. Some of his paintings made
      >me laugh like he was the pop star of the time. I don�t
      >think that was the effect they were going for. In any
      >case, after all that, a hundred and fifty years later
      >and he�s still dead.
      >
      >The walks around the city and the Seine, especially in
      >the cool November air with fewer tourists is really
      >better than the tour bus circuit, so much more
      >visceral (good job thesaurus boy) and we saw a lot. We
      >even walked to the top of the Eiffel tower. So much of
      >France and the Paris streets still look like paintings
      >in your mind. Even the people. A small yet significant
      >portion of the French female population aged from
      >16-72 still look like they shop at �French Hookers R�
      >Us.� Walking down the boulevards they looked like
      >Norman Rockwell paintings, had old Norm actually done
      >a French hooker series. But there were a lot of still
      >life apple pie pictures to attend to. If travel to
      >Paris on steamers at the time had been cheaper we
      >could have seen a whole other side to him. We stayed
      >in Montemarte, right down the hill from the Moulin
      >Rouge. It was a very arty area and the buildings and
      >restaurants are some of the cool little places that
      >were haunted by the famous more than a century ago.
      >
      >We also spent a week in Nice as our base in the south,
      >on the French Riviera la-di-da, and then went to
      >Cannes, Monaco, Antibes, etc. We especially liked Nice
      >and the old part of town with the apartments, small
      >streets and shop fronts going back to the 1750s. Each
      >little apartment could tell hundreds of stories. Maybe
      >because they�re so small they all have these little
      >pocket-sized dogs with their red vinyl rain slickers.
      >I thought there was a convention in town. Monaco and
      >Cannes were a bit sterile, and people seemed
      >exquisitely bored with life, but we can say we�ve been
      >there anyway. The odd thing about France is that there
      >are beautiful, elaborate and ornate cathedrals and
      >churches on what seems every block, some built for
      >example in the 1700s, yet two blocks away from another
      >one built at the same time. They ran from the 14th
      >century through the 19th. It seems the elites of the
      >time each needed one in their neighborhood. There were
      >priceless paintings on the altars, and someone should
      >do a tour group just to see all of these. They�re
      >quite impressive and very well kept. Which is odd
      >considering there seems to be more practicing
      >churchgoers in a two-horse town in Oklahoma than in
      >present-day France.
      >
      >In my previous ramblings I stated that I believe the
      >U.S. got so strong in part because we keep hot foods
      >hot and cold foods cold (you can�t build an empire so
      >quickly with amoebic dysentery taking up half the
      >week), but I also think it�s because of good plumbing
      >too. I don�t know why Europe is indifferent to this.
      >After extensive calculations I found out there are
      >exactly four small toilets in the entire Republic of
      >France. If you combine that with the fact that there
      >is no fiber to be found anywhere in the diet you can
      >see why people there get a reputation for being
      >pinched and irritable. Although, my diet consisted
      >mostly of good chocolate, cheese, Bordeaux and bread,
      >so I�m not complaining. I don�t think France is ready
      >for a 7-11 Big Gulp just yet though. Their Grande
      >coffee can�t even compete with the Starbucks �tiny
      >johnson.� I found out you have to keep your pinky
      >extended just for ballast, as the handle was so small
      >I could barely pinch it between my thumb and
      >forefinger. I looked ridiculous. (Photo attached of
      >our bathtub in Nice). We had many exotic pates on our
      >bread to the point I kept looking for the canned
      >dolphin marked �tuna safe.� Also, there are two
      >smoking sections in French establishments- ultra and
      >regular, or smoking and chain smoking. There are some
      >no smoking sections, but I think that only means you
      >are not on fire, since the waiter will gladly bring
      >you an ashtray. One thing I do like about the French
      >is what the tour book called �an indifference to laws
      >they think are stupid.� They also happily do not care
      >about mundane contrivances like the Stairmaster.
      >Cardio work in November is the latest stock of
      >Beaujolais Noveau.
      >
      >The only thing is that France is twice as expensive as
      >the U.S. (love them eight dollar beers!) due to their
      >punitive tax system, but also because the dollar was
      >only 79 cents to the Euro! Now I know how the
      >Canadians feel. The dollar was previously stronger by
      >20% and now it�s at an all time low to most currencies
      >for those of you that go outside the country (it�s
      >also lost 40% to the Rand, used where we live in SA,
      >in the past year). It�s all part of Bush�s
      >�Strong-dollar policy,� or as I like to call it, part
      >of the wider, �Name Things the Opposite of What They
      >Do Program,� up there with the Patriot Act, Free
      >Trade, the Healthy Forest Act, and the National
      >Alaskan Artic Wildlife Preserve. Republican, Democrat,
      >or Independent, let�s please vote for real leaders
      >that think past political expediency (yeah!, let�s
      >have steel tariffs, that�ll help everyone and get
      >votes! I�m glad they might repeal that disaster).
      >Foreign investment in our country is plummeting due to
      >both the effects of real policies (better prospects
      >elsewhere) and the perception of us around the world
      >as arrogant (emotional avoidance). I�m afraid these
      >current men are the problem, not part of the solution.
      >It�s much more apparent during world travel or living
      >overseas. If we think we�re going to spend our way out
      >of this ballooning deficit then the voting public
      >really is scary. What was I talking about? This
      >unsolicited public service announcement thrown in as a
      >line item under the guise of explaining our honeymoon
      >has been brought to you by John�s wallet. I used to be
      >6� 1� standing on my wallet, now I�m back down to 5�
      >10�.
      >
      >We�re already enjoying being married, and strange to
      >say it seems to have brought us even closer. Maybe
      >because I told her she was stuck with me for the next
      >fifty years and she said she was hoping for 48 max. An
      >anonymous lady we met in St. Paul de Vence told us to
      >be kind to each other. We were and will be. Sometimes
      >it�s a wonderful world despite all. Please everyone
      >write us when you get the chance, and check your boxes
      >for cards from Africa, which will take about a month
      >and a half to get there.
      >
      >Love,
      >John and Eriko
      >
      >Ps-Grandparent watch: negative. check back in June.
      >Pps-Busiest restaurant in France: the McDonalds on Rue
      >de Rivoli in central Paris. Use that next time someone
      >gets snuffy.
      >
      >
      >__________________________________
      >Do you Yahoo!?
      >New Yahoo! Photos - easier uploading and sharing.
      >http://photos.yahoo.com/
      ><< Justafter.JPG >>

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    • 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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