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  • Christine Chumbler
    Corruption slows down growth in Malawi Blantyre, Malawi 05 February 2004 14:43 Malawian President Bakili Muluzi said on Thursday endemic corruption has
    Message 1 of 1046 , Feb 5, 2004
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      Corruption 'slows down' growth in Malawi

      Blantyre, Malawi

      05 February 2004 14:43

      Malawian President Bakili Muluzi said on Thursday endemic corruption has "slowed down" economic growth in the poor Southern African nation and repeated a warning that offenders will be punished.

      Muluzi, speaking at the inauguration of the anti-corruption day that will now be commemorated annually by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), did not elaborate on how much the economy has sufferred due to graft.

      The president also failed to specify how he intends to deal with long-pending corruption cases before he retires in May this year after serving two five-year terms.

      "Corruption is evil: it's the cancer of democracy and undermines public confidence. Everybody who is caught, will have no protection from me," he said, repeating his favourite line on the issue.

      He said the country "should develop a national culture where corruption is not tolerated. Let's resist, reject and report corruption."

      The state-funded ACB was established a year after the country's first democratic elections in 1994, which Muluzi won after three decades of dictatorial rule under Kamuzu Banda.

      But the World Bank, one of the main sponsors of the country's tough economic reforms, last year said high-level graft had worsened in the past five years and "significantly slowed down economic growth".

      The bank said in a report titled Malawi Country Economic Forum that high-level corruption and lack of political will to combat the scourge were two reasons for the country's economic slowdown.

      The institution says it wants the agriculture-powered economy to grow by an average of 6% per year to create wealth and reduce grinding poverty that affects 65% of Malawi's 11-million people.

      The economy has grown by only 2% in the past few decades. -- Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Malawi MP set to hang for murder

      An opposition member of parliament in Malawi has been sentenced to death for murdering his driver two years ago.
      Nasser Kara of the Malawi Congress Party is to be hanged but his lawyer says he may appeal.

      He called the High Court judge's verdict "a travesty of justice". Mr Kara is the first MP in Malawi's history to be sentenced to death.

      However, President Bakili Muluzi has not allowed any executions to proceed since he came to power in 1994.


      Missing

      The driver's remains were found in the MP's Mercedes Benz car in a river.

      Witnesses during the trial suggested the driver's murder was linked to the disappearance of the MP's wife and a friend.

      The killing took place two months after the MP's wife, Liwoli, and her friend, Chimwemwe Kamfoso, disappeared.

      The MP was arrested following newspaper adverts appealing for information about the missing women.

      Under Malawi laws a body has to be found for someone to face trial for murder.

      The jury, which took 20 minutes to reach its verdict, acquitted Kara's two bodyguards of murder.

      The BBC's Raphael Tenthani says that when the majority verdict was announced in the central town of Salima, one of the bodyguards broke down in tears of relief.

      However, the MP maintained a stoic posture, he said.

      *****

      Lundazi Villagers Opt for Malawian Market

      The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

      February 4, 2004
      Posted to the web February 4, 2004

      A Correspondent

      VILLAGERS in Lundazi district in Eastern Province have been forced to sell their produce to neighbouring Malawi because roads leading to other parts of the province are impassable.

      Senior Chief Magodi of the Tumbuka people said in an interview that it was sad his people were being forced to sell their agricultural produce, mostly rice, to Malawi where the road network was better.


      He said his people had a bumper harvest last season but were finding it difficult to access markets in Zambia because of the poor state of roads.

      Malawian authorities have now taken advantage of the situation and have since built markets along the border.

      Chief Magodi urged Government to repair feeder roads in the province adding that Zambia had a lot to benefit from farming in the Eastern Province.

      "Imagine if the whole produce in this province was consumed in Zambia. The food here could feed the whole country if Government cared to rehabilitate roads that had never been worked on since independence," he said.

      Meanwhile, Works and Supply Deputy Minister, Kennedy Shepande, has directed authorities in the Eastern Province to ensure that the road contractors worked according to specifications.

      Mr Shepande who was in the province last week said this after Chipangali member of Parliament, Lucas Phiri (UNIP), complained about the poor workmanship on the Chipata/Lundazi road.

      Mr Phiri urged Government to terminate the contract and award it to another deserving company.

      But Mr Shepande observed that the contractor had inadequate machinery.

      He said Government was concerned about the state of roads especially that the region was performing well in farming.

      He appealed to farmers to be patient as Government had allocated money towards the repair of feeder roads and would soon start releasing the funds.

      Provincial roads engineer, Steve Petwe, said Government had given the province K7 billion for repair works on the Chipata/Lundazi road.

      Mr Petwe said the province was waiting for K500 million for grading of the Lundazi/Chama road.

      Government is said to have released K600 million for the rehabilitation of the Gwembe-Chipepo road in the Southern Province under the auspices of the Tonga Development Project.

      Provincial Minister, Chilufya Kazenene, confirmed this.


      *****

      Zanu-PF key by-election 'rigged'

      Harare

      05 February 2004 13:37


      President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) has retained the parliamentary constituency seat held by former vice president Simon Muzenda who died last year, Zimbabwean state radio reported on Wednesday.

      Retired air marshal Josiah Tungamirai of Zanu-PF polled 20 699 votes against 7 291 for Crispa Musoni of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the two-day by-election which the opposition claimed was rigged.

      The MDC has alleged electoral fraud, saying the ruling party had included about 7 000 people from other constituencies on the Gutu North voters' roll.

      Some 59 390 people were eligible to vote in the Gutu by-election, but fewer than 30 000 had voted by the end of polling on Tuesday.

      The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a coalition of 38 independent civic groupings, observed the polling and said voting was conducted in peace.

      It expressed concern, however, over vote-buying after a Zanu-PF official was seen distributing the staple maize grain on the first day of polling, an "action which is tantamount to vote-buying".

      It also observed that a group of European Union and Norwegian diplomats were "temporarily delayed entry into a polling station".

      "Equally worrying", ZESN said, was the role of village heads who were seen taking down names of voters as they entered the polling stations.

      The MDC now holds 53 of the 150 seats in parliament, following the death on Tuesday of lawmaker David Mpala from alleged torture wounds. - Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Zim opposition MP dies after alleged torture

      Harare

      04 February 2004 17:43 p an interview that it was sad his peop


      A member of parliament from Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, David Mpala, has died from apparent torture wounds, his party announced on Wednesday.

      MDC spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi said the lawmaker from the western Lupane constituency died on Tuesday, aged 48, at a hospital in his home area.

      "A retired member of the police, Mpala's health deteriorated over the past year after being tortured and stabbed by Zanu-PF supporters," said Nyathi in a statement.

      Nyathi alleged that, while campaigning for the Lupane parliamentary seat in April 2000, Mpala was abducted and severely beaten by a group of about 40 ruling Zanu-PF supporters.

      In January 2002 he was abducted by another group of 20 alleged Zanu-PF supporters from a shopping centre in Lupane and dragged to a bush where he was brutally assaulted and stabbed in the chest, back and stomach.

      "He never fully recovered from these injuries and his health deteriorated until his sad death yesterday," said Nyathi.

      "We mourn this hero of the struggle for peace and justice in Zimbabwe. His death will inspire us to fight harder to fulfill his dreams, as we know that the darkest hour comes before dawn," he said.

      His death brings the number of MDC legislators who have died since the 2000 parliamentary elections to five.

      Some have died of natural illnesses, while one died of suspected poisoning while in police custody awaiting trial for the murder of his wife.

      Two other legislators have since resigned: Mike Auret on medical grounds and Tafadzwa Musekiwa who sought political asylum in Britain saying he feared for his life.

      Of the by-elections held so far, the MDC has won some and lost others, leaving it with 53 out of the 150 seats in parliament.

      The run-up to both the 2000 parliamentary elections and the 2002 presidential election were characterised by violence.

      MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is legally challenging the presidential election victory by President Robert Mugabe, citing intimidation, violence and uneven electoral field. - Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Zim court cracks down on journalists

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      05 February 2004 14:39


      Zimbabwe's highest court threw out a constitutional challenge to the country's sweeping media laws on Thursday, making it a criminal offense to work as a journalist without a licence.

      The Supreme Court ruling effectively puts journalists under the direct control of the government with a penalty of up to two years in jail for infringements of laws enforced by the Information Ministry and the state-appointed media commission, said attorney Sternford Moyo, representing the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe.

      The Access to Information Act requires journalists to be licensed by the state Media and Information Commission.

      Those working without a license now face arrest, trial and imprisonment without the option of appealing on constitutional grounds.

      The Supreme Court on November 21 2002 heard the argument by the Independent Journalists Association that the media law violated constitutional rights of free expression.

      Moyo said Thursday's ruling upholds the role of the state commission.

      The court ruled "the practice of journalism was of fundamental importance in a democratic society but this should not place journalists outside regulatory control", Moyo said.

      He said the ruling empowers the state commission to issue or deny accreditation and enforce its codes of conduct in the media.

      The ruling rejected the argument that the commission -- appointed and paid by the Information Ministry and answerable to Minister Jonathan Moyo, architect of media laws -- is itself an unconstitutional body, said the attorney, who is not related to the minister.

      He said all other professional groupings in Zimbabwe have their own independent, self-appointed regulatory bodies.

      "Journalists now have the distinction of being placed under the control of central government," Moyo said.

      There is no further avenue of appeal against the Supreme Court ruling issued on Thursday by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, he said.

      "This is a huge blow to the struggle for freedom of speech and the right to be informed," said Andrew Moyse, head of the independent Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project, a research group.

      "It is criminalising the dissemination of information by anyone not approved by the minister," he said.

      It was not immediately clear how the ruling will affect a hearing later on Thursday in which the state commission is asking the Supreme Court to shut down the Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper.

      The newspaper reopened on January 22 after a lengthy legal battle to remove police from its offices and printing factory.

      Police shut the paper down after the commission refused to license it.

      The paper is critical of the rule of President Robert Mugabe.

      Mugabe's government has sought to crack down on dissent since his disputed re-election in 2002.

      Opposition leaders, trade unionists and independent journalists have been targeted in the crackdown and Mugabe has been accused of packing the courts with sympathetic judges. -- Sapa-AP

      *****

      Trade body suspends Air Zimbabwe

      Air Zimbabwe has been suspended by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) over unpaid debt.
      The move means the carrier can no longer book its passengers onto onward flights with other airlines.

      Air Zimbabwe owes IATA, which acts as a clearing house between members, $1.3m for tickets booked with other airlines.

      The company is the national carrier of Zimbabwe, which is facing an a severe economic crisis - with acute shortages of hard currency, gasoline, and food.

      The airline said efforts to raise the money were "at an advanced stage" and apologised to travellers for any inconvenience.

      "Over the past 12 months, Air Zimbabwe has been facing problems procuring foreign currency to meet its foreign currency-denominated commitments," the company said in a statement.

      Chaos

      Last year, foreign airports threatened to impound Air Zimbabwe equipment if it did not pay outstanding landing and other fees.


      The whole Zimbabwe economy is in crisis
      Zimbabwe pulled out of the Commonwealth in December, after the body extended its suspension over allegations of widespread human rights abuse.

      The country's economy has been in chaos since President Robert Mugabe won a Presidential election in 2002 that the opposition says was stolen.

      The International Monetary Fund is beginning procedures to expel the country from its ranks.


      Last month three Zimbabwean journalists were arrested for alleging that President Mugabe had commandeered an Air Zimbabwe plane, leaving passengers stranded.

      The journalists have since been freed on bail by a Harare court.
    • 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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