Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.


Expand Messages
  • Christine Chumbler
    Eager Malawians await poll result The people of Malawi are keenly waiting for a verdict on the country s third presidential election since democracy was
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 21, 2004
    • 0 Attachment
      Eager Malawians await poll result

      The people of Malawi are keenly waiting for a verdict on the country's third presidential election since democracy was established a decade ago.
      There has yet to be any official signal as to who the victor might be since the count began early on Thursday evening.

      Unofficial indications are of a close contest between the ruling party's Bingu wa Mutharika and Gwanda Chakuamba of the Republican Party.

      Voting was reportedly calm despite earlier allegations of irregularities.

      Opposition parties had accused the authorities of altering the electoral roll without consulting them - a complaint which caused the vote, originally scheduled for Tuesday, to be delayed.

      The turn-out on Thursday is reported to have been very high, as many queued for hours to elect a replacement for President Bakili Muluzi, who is reluctantly leaving after two terms in office.

      At a press conference on Friday, election commission officials said early results might be available by midnight.

      Local radio stations are broadcasting unofficial results coming from individual polling stations.

      They report that Mr Chakuamba is leading in the north, John Tembo from the former ruling Malawi Congress Party is ahead in the centre, while Mr Mutharika and Mr Chakuamba are tied in the south.

      'Serious inadequacies'

      Observers are so far split on the conduct of the poll, with the European Union team giving it a broad thumbs up, while the Commonwealth refused to declare it "free and fair".

      "There were no serious incidents in the country as far as we know and it is a very good sign," EU observer mission leader Marieke Sandersten Holt told AFP news agency.

      The head of the Commonwealth team, former Tanzanian Prime Minister Joseph Warioba, agreed that the poll had been peaceful but also pointed to hitches.

      "We noted the serious inadequacies in the registration process and the inability of the electoral commission to resolve some important issues," he said, including the fact that several voters' rolls were used.

      He also said he was "deeply concerned about the gross bias of the public media and the misuse of the advantages of incumbency."

      AP news agency reports that polling was postponed in six of the 193 parliamentary districts due to errors with ballot papers.

      The election supervisor and local police turned up drunk and ballot boxes were found unsealed at one polling station in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

      They had to be rushed to hospital after they were beaten up by angry voters and polling was postponed by several hours.

      Aids, which affects 14% of the population, and poverty are seen as the main election issues, along with public services such as health and education.

      pictures of polling
      quotes/pictures of voters (at bottom of page)


      Malawi: Country Goes to the Polls

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 20, 2004
      Posted to the web May 20, 2004


      Malawi's general elections got off to a peaceful start on Thursday, as voters turned out to choose a new president and 191 members of parliament.

      At some voting stations in the capital, Lilongwe, people had begun queuing by 4.00 am - two hours before the centres opened.

      Some confusion was reported at polling stations where people's photographs had not appeared alongside their names in the voters' register, but "if their names are there, and they have certificates with them, they are allowed to vote," said Martha Jussam, a Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) monitor in the capital.

      The ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) deputy publicity secretary, Mary Kaphwereza-Banda, told IRIN she was pleased with the way voting was being conducted.

      "The only problem that I have seen is in my constituency where [some] wrong names were [on the register], otherwise I am very happy with the peaceful conduct of voting," she said.

      Kheliwe Mkandawire, spokesperson for the Mgwirizano coalition, the UDF's main rival, said, "There are no problems in Mzimba district [in Malawi's Northern Region] where I am. I am getting reports that the voting is going on very peacefully, and this is what we all want."

      Five presidential candidates are standing in the country's third multi-party election since 1994. Results are expected to be announced on Saturday, and the new president will be sworn in on Sunday. Malawi has 5.6 million registered voters out of a population of 11 million.


      Malawi: Muluzi Bows Out

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 20, 2004
      Posted to the web May 20, 2004


      Outgoing president Bakili Muluzi leaves office after 10 years in power with a mixed record, say analysts.

      Taking over in 1994 after three decades of dictatorial rule by Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Muluzi would be remembered for "keeping the nation together," said political analyst Rafiq Hajat. "He would be remembered for ushering in democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of association."

      But in his second term, "things went wrong ... There was rampant corruption in government, a bad economic performance", and Muluzi became an autocratic leader, said Hajat.

      Muluzi, 61, led the United Democratic Front (UDF) from its foundation in 1991 as an underground group of politicians, mainly from the former ruling Malawi Congress Party, who had fallen out of favour with Banda. "He was one of those who fought for multi-party democracy during the one-party era, and presided over the consolidation of democracy in Malawi - and that was not an easy task," said UDF publicity secretary Ken Lipenga.

      On the economic front, a decade of UDF rule witnessed the deepening of poverty for ordinary Malawians. Under Muluzi, Malawians "suffered from hunger, government failed to be accountable to the voters and corruption was deeply entrenched in public office", remarked political scientist Nixon Khembo.

      One of his main policy achievements - the introduction free primary education - was undermined by poor implementation, with underqualified teachers and a lack of resources. "When we introduced it, we knew the infrastructure wasn't quite there, but we preferred to face that head-on and move in the right direction," explained Lipenga.

      Muluzi, with a deep baritone voice, was impressive on the campaign trail: quick to joke with his audience, and always ready to dole out cash, he had a populist touch.

      "Most of the people in the villages are lacking basic necessities - that's why they go begging to the president whenever he calls rallies, which reduces their dignity. The people are not empowered as we thought they would be; not empowered to be productive," said Boniface Tamani, chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, an interfaith democracy monitoring group.

      After failing to secure an amendment to the constitution to enable him to run for a third term in office, Muluzi chose his successor - a politically obscure economist Bingu wa Mutharika - and settled for chairmanship of the UDF, while concentrating on his business empire.

      "Democracy must bring economic prosperity to the poor and vulnerable in our society," he said at a recent rally, "Dr Mutharika is best poised, and determined to offer Malawians the best deal."

      "[Muluzi] is still chairman of the party and, if Mutharika wins, I can see that Muluzi will have influence, especially during the first six months of UDF rule," said Hajat.

      But should the UDF lose, that "means the end of the party, because Muluzi entirely supports it financially", said Khembo.

      Law lecturer Edge Kanyongolo suggested that after five years Muluzi could try to stage a comeback. "The issue of Muluzi coming back would be very interesting. This is an arguable case - the constitution is silent on it; it only says one can only serve two consecutive five-year terms."


      Mugabe militia riot after MPs' brawl

      21 May 2004 07:52

      Youth militia of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party went on the rampage in Harare on Thursday, smashing windows and destroying property at the offices of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

      The youths also blockaded an entrance to Parliament and threatened to kill a white MP who, in a fit of anger, had thrown the justice minister to the ground earlier in the week.

      Riot police who arrived took no action against the Zanu-PF youths, but instead arrested four MDC members for unspecified reasons, according to the opposition party.

      The furore began on Tuesday when the justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said the forefathers of an MDC MP, Roy Bennett, were "thieves and murderers".

      An enraged Bennett charged through the aisles of the parliament's debating chamber, grabbed Chinamasa, shook him and threw him to the floor. Other Zanu-PF MPs jumped up and attacked Bennett until order was restored. One cabinet minister, Eliott Manyika, allegedly pulled out a gun.

      Mugabe's ruling party has been quick to seize on the incident and use it to stir up sentiments against white Zimbabweans and the opposition.

      In the eastern border city of Mutare, near Bennett's constituency, hundreds of Zanu-PF demonstrators forced eight white-owned businesses to close, local residents said. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004


      Zimbabwe MP defiant after brawl

      A Zimbabwe opposition MP who assaulted a minister in parliament has said he will not be intimidated by the ruling Zanu-PF party.
      "No amount of threats will intimate me, I have lived with them for four years," Roy Bennett told the BBC.

      On Thursday Zanu-PF supporters attacked the Movement for Democratic Change party headquarters in Harare.

      Earlier, thousands of demonstrators had gathered outside the parliament building to denounce Mr Bennett.

      They waved placards with slogans such as "Head of Bennett Now" and "Bury Bennett, Bury MDC".

      A senior Zanu-PF official was quoted as saying that Mr Bennett "risked death" if he returned to his home province of Manicaland.

      But the MP told the BBC's Network Africa programme that he had been out and about in the capital, Harare, and had received support from the public.

      He said he had not gone to parliament on Thursday because he did not want to be confronted with "mock justice".

      "I am not proud of what happened. But I am human, I snapped after many years of abuse and taunting."


      Mr Bennett is one of three white opposition MPs, representing Chimanimani in south-eastern Zimbabwe.

      He told the BBC he had been put in jail and beaten.

      He said his home was overrun by Zanu-PF members during the 2000 election campaign - the stress of which caused his wife to have a miscarriage.

      Some of Mr Bennett's employees have been killed and many severely assaulted as militants have taken over his farm, in support of the government's land reform programme.

      The state-run Ziana news agency said Mr Bennett "grabbed [Justice Minister Patrick] Chinamasa by the throat, shook him violently and pushed him to the ground" during a debate on Tuesday evening.

      Mr Bennett said he reacted after Mr Chinamasa said he would never set foot on his farm again.

      "Mr Bennett has not forgiven the government for acquiring his farm, but he forgets that his forefathers were thieves and murderers," the minister said, according to state media.

      Mr Bennett alleged that a ruling party MP had pulled out a gun during the fracas, which involved several MPs from both sides of the house.

      Zanu-PF chief whip Joram Gumbo said parliament would set up a committee to look into the incident.

      On Thursday, MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said that the committee has not yet convened.


      Police arrest Zim editor again


      21 May 2004 12:59

      Zimbabwe police on Friday arrested Bornwell Chakaodza, editor of the independent weekly Standard newspaper, and one of his reporters, for the second time in three days, his staff said.

      "They came to his house at 7am. and took him to the police station," said David Masunda, deputy editor of the Standard. Reporter Valentine Maponga was picked up from his home at about 5am, he said.

      The two were arrested on Wednesday, but released after about eight hours, after being charged under the Public Order and Security Act with "publishing false information likely to endanger public safety."

      Police could not be reached for comment. The charge refers to a report in the Standard on Sunday, which quoted relatives of a senior mining company executive, who was shot dead last week, as saying that "top government officials" were behind the killings.

      "This morning's arrests were over the same business," Masunda said. It was the seventh time in two years that Chakaodza (49) has been arrested.

      Since 2000 when President Robert Mugabe's government launched a wave of new repression against his critics, the country's independent press has been under attack from the state with scores of newspaper editors, reporters, executives and even vendors arrested, although not one has ended in a successful prosecution.

      Journalists have also been harassed, assaulted and tortured, and many are followed by state agents and have their telephones tapped.

      There is almost a total ban on visiting foreign journalists and six locally-based foreign correspondents have been expelled since 2001.

      The country's top selling daily paper, the independent Daily News was bombed twice and then banned in September last year. - Sapa-DPA
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
      • 0 Attachment

        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.


        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

      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.