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  • Christine Chumbler
    Opposition Leader Says Coalition May Crumble Malawi Standard (Blantyre) February 5, 2004 Posted to the web February 5, 2004 Dickson Kashoti Blantyre National
    Message 1 of 1046 , Feb 6, 2004
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      Opposition Leader Says Coalition May Crumble

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      February 5, 2004
      Posted to the web February 5, 2004

      Dickson Kashoti
      Blantyre

      National Democratic Alliance (NDA) President Brown Mpinganjira has challenged that unless Mgwirizano Coalition leaders stop scrambling for positions, the opposition electoral grouping is likely to crumble.

      In an interview, Mpinganjira said his party might contest the May 18 Presidential and Parliamentary elections single handedly because the party was suspicious on the way the Mgwirizano leaders intend to choose the leadership.


      "There is need to look at the Coalition agreement carefully. It is not good that some people should just join the coalition just for positions," he said.

      Mpinganjira said it was not fair that some parties, which are not popular, should have the same voting powers as such other parties like his NDA.

      The NDA leader said some parties just want to ride on other people's backs to get into leadership without sweating for it.

      "There is need to have an opinion poll to find out which parties in the opposition are popular.

      The popularity means those that are known even at grass root level then we can talk of sharing the positions.

      Let us commission a renowned organization to conduct such a poll," he said.

      Mpinganjira also said all the parties should present their manifestos at the coalition table where experts should examine them before selecting the best.

      He said this would be one way of choosing the presidential candidate and running mate for the coalition.

      "I am not trying to be difficult but you can see that NDA is very popular. We and the MCP are the only parties in the opposition which had monitors throughout the country during the registration exercise," he said.

      Mpinganjira challenged that NDA can stand on its own and win the elections, saying the party is popular in all the 28 districts of the country.

      "People who want to get into government must have a clear agenda. Their agenda must not be just to remove the UDF from power but what they would do after the elections," he said.

      But Mpinganjira said he is always for the coalition but all parties must endorse the laid down procedures on the choice of the presidential candidate and running mate.

      "We have always championed for coalitions. We once worked with the MCP and Aford before the amendment of Section 65 of the Republican Constitution. Now that the section has been removed, we are ready to work with any other party but we need to agree on some conditions," he said.

      Boniface Dulani, a political analyst at Chancellor College said in a separate interview that the procedures on the selection of the presidential candidate and running mate for the Mgwirizano Coalition were vague.

      "Yes, I agree that the selection process they want to take is not clear, but the NDA cannot win on its own. They need to work with others if they are to win the elections," he said.

      MCP spokesman Nicholas Dausi said his party's National Executive Committee was still discussing if they were to sign the memorandum of understanding.

      "What we wanted is to have the document. We wanted to read it before signing," he said.

      So far seven parties have signed the Memorundum of Understanding.

      *****

      Opposition Mgode Party Split

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      February 5, 2004
      Posted to the web February 5, 2004

      Harry Mangulenje
      Blantyre

      Movement for Genuine Democratic Change [Mgode] is torn into two camps with differing political ideologies, each one of them claiming to be genuine.

      The Malawi Standard has learnt that the first camp of the Alliance for democracy (Aford) break away, is headed by its Secretary General Greene Rulilo Mwamondwe and his fellow MP, Nelson Kampunga Mwafulirwa while the dissenting camp is headed by interim chairman Du Mhango.


      Sources reveal that the Mwamondwe clique, which refers to itself as the mainstream camp sympathises with National Democratic Alliance [NDA] and the two parties hold rallies together in the North while the Mhango camp claims to be genuine and independent of any political grouping.

      The January 23 signing of Mgwirizano Coalition Memorandum of Understanding at Mount Soche in Blantyre highlighted the major differences in the party when two separate letters, signed by Mhango and Mwamondwe respectively, carried conflicting messages to the ceremony confusing the coalition steering committee headed by Harry Chiume, president of National Unity Party.

      The letter signed by Mwamondwe said Mgode would not sign the agreement on grounds that there were many flaws in the memorandum.

      This development was deemed as an emulation of a stand taken by NDA and Malawi Congress Party [MCP].

      Opposed to this, a letter signed by Mhango only carried an apology for not signing on the day citing problems of transport from the North, indicating the party would sign the document.

      After their meeting on January 24 Mhango accused Mwamondwe and his colleagues most of whom are MPs for not consulting the National Executive Committee when dealing with matters involving policy. He was referring to the Mwamondwe letter. Mhango described Mwamondwe's letter as personal views not representing the stand of Mgode as a party.

      When Mhango's Mgode was signing the MOU on January 29, Mwamondwe and company were consipicuously missing.

      Mhango himself, Mgode's central region coordinator Alfed Mwambila Campaign Director a Mchize and shadow MP for Mzimba Hora Henry Mumba. all of whom are not MP's were the ones who represented the Party .

      "We have a responsibility to sign the document because this is not our individual wish but the wishes of the masses out there," said Mhango while appealing to MCP and NDA to emulate the same.

      Mgode showed first cracks in November last year when Mwamonde and a few MP's including Sam Kandodo Banda of Khata Bay South, Nelson Kampunga Mwafulirwa of Karonga among others announced that Mgode is in alliance with NDA, a claim refuted by the Mhango camp.

      Mhango told the press weeks later that Mwamondwe and his colleagues were operating behind their backs and that Mgode was not in alliance with any party describing the alliance stories as a non-starter.

      "Mr. Mwamondwe and his colleagues are acting as individuals and that should not be deemed as the stand of Mgode because me as a chairman am not aware," Mhango was quoted as saying.

      *****

      Malawi Congress Party Warns Split Group

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      February 5, 2004
      Posted to the web February 5, 2004

      Dickson Kashoti
      Blantyre

      The Malawi Congress Party (MCP) has brushed aside suggestions by the party's breakaway political group, the Republican Party that the country's oldest party needs a new leadership following the defection of some members to the month old party.

      Republican Party President Gwanda Chakuamba said at one of his rallies that the current National Executive Committee of the MCP has no mandate to conduct business because three-quarters of the members were just appointed into the positions because most members defected to the RP.


      Nicholas Dausi, the MCP spokesperson said there was no need to conduct a convention, saying only a few people defected to the RP.

      Dausi said Chakuamba has no mandate to speak for the MCP.

      He however confirmed that most of the members, especially from the South have defected to the Republican Party.

      He said the Republican Party's tactics of poaching members of the MCP would reduce the chances of the opposition winning the May 18 elections.

      The Republican Party held its convention on Sunday in Blantyre where Chakuamba was endorsed President, Bazuka Mhango First Vice President and Rodrick Makono Second Vice President.

      Bridget Kapalamula was elected secretary general with Aaron Sangala as deputy secretary general. Stanley Masauli was elected treasurer general.

      Chakuamba openly said at the convention that he wants to be elected presidential candidate for the Mgwirizano Coalition, saying he was tired of serving as Member of Parliament.

      *****

      Escom Says 'Back to Light' Never to Be Repeated

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      February 5, 2004
      Posted to the web February 5, 2004

      Harry Mangulenje
      Blantyre

      Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi [ESCOM] has described the recent Back to Light campaign as one of the rogue programmes never to be repeated in future despite having achieved its intended goals.

      In an interview recently, ESCOM's assistant administration officer, Chikondi Chimala said the programme has not come to stay.


      Chimala said back to light was simply a surprise programme designed to reduce customer debts.

      "It is the first of its nature in the history of the corporation but unfortunately it's a rogue programme that can never be repeated," said Chimala.

      But he said some customers asked for more of such programmes but said the company has no immediate plans for such a programme.

      "People should not expect it to come back. Surprises, are supposed to come as surprises and not as expected" he said.

      The local press recently quoted Public Relations Edward Chitsulo as saying that the corporation reaped K66Million minus the 17.5 surtax from the expected K250Million projected at the inception of the two months long programme.

      It further indicated that the corporation used K5Million to prepare for the programme including media advertisement and sponsored programmes, general promotion through T/shirts distributed in all the three regions in the country and competition prizes awarded in all the categories.

      The prizes included deep fridges, radios, television screens and microwaves, among others.

      During the back to light programme, the corporation offered a 40 percent discount for those disconnected upon paying the whole debt in cash, 30 percent for those preferring to square theirs in two installments while three installments had a 20 percent discount.

      Before back to light, Escom was being owed a total of K1.2 Billion inclusive of bills in parastatals and other government institutions.

      *****

      No Dividends for BHL Shareholders

      Malawi Standard (Blantyre)

      February 5, 2004
      Posted to the web February 5, 2004

      Paul Kang'ombe
      Blantyre

      Shareholders with Blantyre Hotels Limited will this year go home with empty pockets because the company has decided to use the dividends the shareholders were supposed to get to offset a K428 million (US$4 million) loan to its creditors.

      The company, which is listed on the Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE), posted an operation profit of about K30.4 million according to its September 30, 2004 financial report.


      In an interview with the Malawi Standard, Protea's Regional Manager Alan Kane said although the company posted a profit last year, the company would not declare dividends because it is servicing a loan.

      "We cannot declare dividends, our capital is almost zero because we are paying back the loan that we used to construct the new hotel," he said.

      Blantyre Hotels, managers of Protea Ryalls Hotel and Shire Highlands Hotel also failed to declare dividends last year.

      Kane however said that this does not mean that the company is running at a loss.

      According to him, BHL owes International Development Corporation of South Africa and the European Investment Bank K428 million expected to take a period of about five years for them to offset.

      He said:" Our main challenge is to improve our services. We have plans to expand to some parts of the country and neighbouring countries when opportunities arise," he said.

      The company has also embarked on a refurbishment project on Shire Highlands Hotel and the old building of Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre.

      Blantyre hotels Finance and Administration manager Hastings Thembakako disclosed that refurbishment of Shire Highlands Hotel will cost K20 million while old Ryalls would cost about US$ 1.6 million (K171.2 million). He said the company has bright business prospects once the refurbishment is over.

      The old Ryalls Hotel will have a conference room, board room, main hall, restaurant, kitchen, bar, commercial space and a gym.

      Thembakako said that when the renovations are finished, the two hotels will have 120 rooms combined.

      The refurbishment work would be completed by March 31, this year.

      The new Five Star Ryalls Hotel deluxe rooms have a double bed, internet facilities, hitechdoors, airconditions, hitech safe and a DStv among other facilities in each room peged at US$ 200 (21400) per night.

      Thembakako said business at the hotel has risen by 45 percent by last year as opposed to 2002 when the rate was 27 per cent.
    • 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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