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  • Christine Chumbler
    International Partners Help Malawi Prepare for May Elections United Nations Development Programme (New York) April 5, 2004 Posted to the web April 5, 2004 New
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 6, 2004
      International Partners Help Malawi Prepare for May Elections

      United Nations Development Programme (New York)

      April 5, 2004
      Posted to the web April 5, 2004

      New York

      The Malawi Electoral Commission is getting international assistance in conducting presidential and parliamentary elections on 19 May, including support for registering voters, cleaning up the voters roll, equipping polling stations, and making arrangements for election observers.

      The European Union is providing US$2.4 million to a trust fund administered by UNDP to support the effort. Norway has contributed $1.5 million and the United Kingdom $750,000. The resources are part of a wider donor initiative that is providing $5.1 million of the $14 million budget for the elections.


      The Commission has registered 900,000 new voters so far, bringing the total to about six million.

      Ambassador Wiepke van der Goot, head of the EU delegation, said that the EU is pleased to assist the electoral process, and emphasized its confidence in UNDP administration of the trust fund. He expressed hope that the elections would be conducted successfully.

      UNDP Resident Representative Zahra Nuru said that the trust fund symbolized international support for the democratic process, and that UNDP will cooperate with the commission to help prepare for the poll.

      She also expressed hope that other donors would provide additional assistance.

      Election preparations are moving forward, including cleaning up the voters roll at the commission's IT centre, which UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown visited during his four-day mission to Malawi last month.

      The trust fund is providing help to the commission, civil society groups and the media for voter education, and for international, regional and national observers to monitor the elections.

      A February communiqué by donors said that proper administration of voter registration is vital for a successful election, as it plays a key role in ensuring that the vote is free and fair.

      They reported that registration staff trained by the commission are well prepared and able to do their job, registration centres were peaceful and well managed during a recent registration drive, and no overt political interference or violence was observed. Commission staff made efforts to remedy a shortage of registration forms and other materials.

      The number of new registrants was high, but only a small proportion of eligible voters checked their entries on the voters' roll. The donors cited demands of the planting season, poor advance publicity and the lack of materials were cited as reasons, although they said that the commission worked hard during the final two weeks of registration to remedy the situation.

      They expressed hope that political parties, religious and faith groups, civil society organizations and the Electoral Commission would encourage those who did not check their entries to do so when the revised voters roll is made available at registration centres in this month.

      This is the third election since Malawi voted for multi-party democracy in a referendum in 1993. The 1994 general elections led to the removal from power of former president Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who ruled the country with an iron fist for over 30 years. President Bakili Muluzi took over from Dr. Banda and was re-elected in 1999.

      There are six candidates vying for the presidential post, and 116 women are among the candidates for 193 National Assembly seats.

      *****

      Nacala-Malawi Pipeline Under Study

      Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo)

      April 4, 2004
      Posted to the web April 5, 2004

      Maputo

      A study is now under way on the viability of building a fuel pipeline from the northern Mozambican port of Nacala to landlocked Malawi, and is expected to be concluded later this year.

      According to Mozambican Transport Minister Tomas Salomao, after the study, the engineering and financial consultants for the undertaking will make recommendations to the Mozambican and Malawian governments on the project's viability, and on its potential to supply not merely Malawi, but also Zambia and perhaps parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


      The building of a pipeline, similar to the one in central Mozambique between the port of Beira and Zimbabwe, was recommended during the February 2003 Nacala Corridor investors' conference, held in the city of Nampula.

      "A large and thorough study is being undertaken", Salomao said. "I think we shall be successful in this bilateral undertaking, since Mozambique and Malawi have common characteristics as regards the major challenges they both face - to defeat poverty, and to create opportunities for development and growth. So we shall continue to carry out, with responsibility, the undertakings we gave to the investors' conference".

      To make the Nacala Development Corridor a reality, there are a series of "anchor projects" on both the Mozambican and Malawian sides of the border. These projects are designed to complement the Nacala-Malawi railway.

      The Nacala Corridor dominated the discussions held this week in Maputo between President Joaquim Chissano and his Malawian counterpart, Bakili Muluzi.

      The dossier of projects on the Mozambican side include the exploitation (by the Irish firm Kenmare Resources) of the heavy mineral sands in Moma district, the Nacala port Industrial Free Zone, the Gile and Mecula nature reserves (in Zambezia and Niassa provinces respectively), as well as a project to develop the tourist potential of the northern most province of Cabo Delgado. On the Malawian side, there are hopes to exploit further the tourist potential of Lake Niassa. The Malawian authorities are also anxious to import electricity produced at the Cahora Bassa dam in the western Mozambican province of Tete.

      The Nacala line proved how important it was to Malawi during the recent southern African drought. During this emergency, the railway became a lifeline, transporting 265,000 tonnes of foodstuffs to Malawi.

      The cost of the projects identified during the investors' conference is in excess of a billion US dollars. The Moma heavy sands projects alone requires an investment of 250 million dollars.


      *****

      Late rains could hinder Mozambique's recovery

      Johannesburg, South Africa

      06 April 2004 12:08


      Given the poor harvests in parts of Mozambique over the past three years, the two-month delay in the onset of main planting-season rains is cause for vigilance, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fews Net) has cautioned.

      As a result of the delay, Fews Net has placed Mozambique on "watch status". A food security "watch" is initiated when rainfall or environmental indicators show unusual fluctuations outside expected seasonal ranges, and most households show signs of moderate food insecurity.

      "Normally the major cropping season starts in October in the southern and central provinces, and lasts until March; in the northern areas it begins in November-December and lasts until April. This year the cropping season was delayed by two to three months, with much of the main agricultural activity taking place in January, particularly in south and central regions," Fews Net explained.

      In spite of the late arrival of rain, the planting, replanting and continued rainfall have permitted crops to develop, leading to near-normal production estimates.

      Consequently, the Early Warning Department of the Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has estimated that national-level crop production will increase this year compared with last year, with cereal, pulse and tuber production all up by between 6% and 6,5%, Fews Net noted.

      "However, households in semi-arid areas of Gaza, Inhambane and Tete provinces, as well as parts of Maputo, Manica and Sofala provinces are only now beginning to recover from the past three years of drought, and thus potentially remain food-insecure.

      "To determine the extent of the impact of these three bad years, the Mozambique Vulnerability Assessment Committee, a multisectoral group, is currently carrying out an assessment, for which the results will be available in early May," Fews Net added.

      While conditions appeared positive overall, "decision-makers should take seriously the results of the ongoing assessment in defining the proper types of assistance, levels and duration the population may need".

      There has also been localised flooding in parts of Mozambique over the past month, but the impact on food security "does not seem to have been significant". -- Irin

      *****

      More funds needed for Zimbabwe relief

      Johannesburg, South Africa

      06 April 2004 13:34


      In an effort to arrest worsening humanitarian conditions in Zimbabwe, the United Nations is seeking additional funds to support relief efforts through to the end of the year.

      The request is a revision of the Consolidated Appeal launched last July, which focuses on strengthening social service delivery, to support the country's recovery and tackle HIV/Aids.

      The total of $95,4-million in funding requirements for 2003 to the end of 2004 includes $31,1-million requested by local and international NGOs. So far only $10,5-million in contributions has been received since the inital appeal was launched last year.

      "The review and update specifically focuses on strengthening the delivery of basic social services, HIV/Aids and recovery to reverse the downward humanitarian trend in the country.

      "The main objective in this regard is to prevent loss of life. This will be achieved by striving to meet minimum standards in delivering public health, water and sanitation and reversing the effects of HIV/Aids," UN resident humanitarian coordinator Victor Angelo said in a foreword to the appeal.

      The country's weakening economy is seen as one of key reasons for deteriorating social conditions. Inflation in Zimbabwe reached more than 500% at the begining of the year and more than 60% of the labour force is out of work.

      The rapidly declining economy means that public services are seriously underfunded and often do not meet minimum standards, the appeal noted.

      "The quality of and access to social services, in particular health and education, has further deteriorated due to funding and capacity constraints, resulting in critical shortages of health workers and teachers, as well as a lack of medical and learning supplies. Water and sanitation systems' capacity and quality, both in rural and urban areas, are also increasingly inadequate," the appeal said.

      There is also concern that the 2004 harvest will be insufficient to ensure national food security -- with an estimated five million Zimbabweans dependent on food aid and other social safety schemes over the coming months.

      "In consultation with the UN humanitarian coordinator, the government will consider making a separate appeal for general food aid once additional information on the performance of the current crop is available," the appeal said.

      HIV/Aids continues to be an overriding concern for the humanitarian community. Recent estimates indicated that about 25% of Zimbabwe's sexually active population is infected with HIV.

      "Death and sickness are crippling the society, and profoundly undermining recovery prospects. The magnitude of this tragedy is depleting households as well as local and national public service capacity," the appeal noted.

      Another area of concern is the living conditions in new resettlement areas, particularly with respect to former farm workers.

      Former farm workers find themselves without access to income, land or social services, while new settlers are arriving and competing for increasing scarce resources, the appeal noted.

      The UN has requested authorisation to conduct a humanitarian assessment in these areas in order to determine vulnerability and subsequently planning for the delivery of needed humanitarian assistance.

      One of the main priorities of humanitarian agencies until year-end is improving the targeting of food distribution to the most vulnerable. Activities will include the provision of basic food rations, supplementary feeding for children under five, and therapeutic feeding.

      Targeted food aid programmes are also expected to bring much-needed relief to the urban population. The latest assessment estimated that almost 2,5-million people in high-density urban areas are vulnerable, due to food insecurity and lack of access to basic services. -- Irin

      *****

      Mugabe vows to bury opposition at polls

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      04 April 2004 09:13


      Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has vowed that his ruling Zanu-PF party will crush the opposition in next year's general elections, the state-run Herald reported on Saturday.

      Mugabe said a Zanu-PF party victory in a recent by-election had set panic among the opposition, which lost its seat in Parliament.

      "They [the Movement for Democratic Change] now fear elections and are giving all sorts of lame excuses for boycotting elections," Mugabe told a party central committee meeting on Friday.

      Zimbabwe's long-time leader continued: "We dare them. Boycott or no boycott, well you are ripe for burial and we will put you to eternal sleep in March next year."

      The opposition MDC has since the start of the year been issuing threats to boycott next year's polls unless certain demands, among them the setting up of an independent electoral commission, are met.

      Mugabe's party won the Zengeza seat by-election last weekend, where just about a third of the eligible voters cast their ballots, beating the MDC, which previously held the seat.

      The president, who has repeatedly accused the MDC of being bankrolled by Western nations, especially former colonial power Britain, said the defeat in Zengeza was not just of the MDC, but also that of Britain and the United States.

      "Let the ballot box consign the sell-outs to the dustbin of history, never to be retrieved again," he said.

      Zimbabwe is due to hold its sixth five-yearly legislative polls in March 2005. -- Sapa-AFP
    • 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

        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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