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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi finally gets new cabinet Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has named a new cabinet almost a month after winning disputed elections. Opposition leader
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jun 14, 2004
      Malawi finally gets new cabinet

      Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has named a new cabinet almost a
      month after winning disputed elections.
      Opposition leader Gwanda Chakuamba, who shocked many by backing Mr
      Mutharika after earlier challenging his election in court, was not given
      a post.

      But three of his Republican Party colleagues were given ministerial
      jobs.

      Mr Maharaja's UDF party did not win a majority in parliament, so the
      new president had not form a coalition government to gets its laws
      passed.

      However, it is not yet clear whether the new cabinet will have the
      backing of more than 50% of MPs.

      Goodall Gondwe, former IMF director for Africa and an economic adviser
      to former president Bakili Muluzi, was named finance minister.

      Key independents

      Mr Chakuamba had previously said that he did not want to be in
      government.

      With 16 MPs from Mr Chakuamba's Republican Party and three from the
      Movement for Genuine Democratic Change, which also backed Mr Mutharika,
      74 MPs support the president in the 193-seat parliament.

      Many of the 39 independent MPs, who left Mr Mutharika's United
      Democratic Front, are expected to rejoin, to hand the president a
      majority.

      The former ruling Malawi Congress Party is challenging the election
      results in court.

      Election observers said there had been "serious shortcomings" in the
      polling.

      Several people died in two days of violent protests in the commercial
      capital, Blantyre, after the results were announced.


      *****

      'Suspects are beginning to look like victims'

      Zarina Geloo | Lusaka, Zambia

      13 June 2004 23:59


      This month marks the second anniversary of a corruption task force set
      up by Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa to investigate the alleged
      improprieties of his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba. However, chances of
      the former leader being convicted on any of the charges seem
      increasingly remote.

      Chiluba's former head of intelligence, Xavier Chungu, former
      ambassador Attan Shasongo and other senior officials have also been
      accused of corrupt activities, such as theft from state coffers.

      To date, the task force has been able to secure the conviction of one
      of Chiluba's former press aides, Richard Sakala, an unpopular
      journalist who was sentenced to five years in jail for theft and abuse
      of office.

      But, as Sakala's case was not related to the charges against Chiluba,
      his conviction has simply deepened a belief that the task force is inept
      -- and that it will not be able to bring top-ranking officials to book.
      Former ministers Katele Kalumba and Michael Sata have already been let
      off the hook because the court deemed there was not enough evidence to
      prosecute them.

      The force includes representatives from the Anti-Corruption Commission,
      the Drug Enforcement Commission, the state's intelligence service and
      the police. But, this array fails to impress Dean Mungomba, leader of
      the opposition Zambia Alliance for Progress.

      He says the country lacks the ability to fight corruption, and that
      suspected plunderers are slowly becoming heroes and heroines because of
      the fumbling of the task force: "Suspects are beginning to look like
      victims because they are arrested, charged and then nothing -- they are
      let go."

      The force has also been embarrassed by what appear to be bungled
      efforts to strike deals with Chungu and Shasongo, in a bid to bolster
      the case against Chiluba -- who governed Zambia for 10 years until 2001.


      Former intelligence chief Chungu fled to the Democratic Republic of
      Congo (DRC) while out on bail a month ago, saying he feared that his
      chances of getting a fair trial in Zambia were being compromised by the
      fact that the task force wanted him to testify against Chiluba.

      Earlier, former ambassador to the United States Attan Shasongo left for
      Britain -- ostensibly to gather evidence against Chiluba (Shasongo is
      said to have laundered money for the former president). Once he got to
      the United Kingdom, however, he let it be known that he would neither be
      returning to Zambia, nor testifying against his former boss. Shasongo
      has a residence permit for Britain.

      Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Kennedy Sakeni has said that while it
      might be possible to extradite Shasonga or have him tried in Britain, it
      is unlikely that Chungu will be sent back home -- because Zambia does
      not have an extradition treaty with the DRC.

      These events have prompted the Citizens Forum, a newly formed civic
      organisation, to claim that the fight against corruption has become too
      centred on Chiluba.

      Spokesperson Emily Joy Sikazwe says the force appears to be focusing on
      Chiluba to the exclusion of everything else -- whereas it should be
      building a case against all those implicated in government corruption.

      "Let us not look at Chiluba alone. What about all his ministers who
      acquired wealth not commensurate with their salaries? What about chief
      executives of the parastatal organisations? The auditor general's
      report has outlined outright cases of plunder and theft. Why are we not
      doing anything about them?" she asks.

      Sikazwe also believes the task force might be made more accountable if
      Parliament passes a law that clearly stipulates its responsibilities.

      "Right now it reports straight to Mwanawasa, who it appears has a
      personal vendetta against Chiluba ... The church, civil society, lawyers
      and other organisations should be part of the task force to monitor its
      operations. At the moment it is just accumulating unnecessary bills with
      its bumbling investigations," she says.

      The task force also took a knock when the farm of its chairperson, Mark
      Chona, was repossessed by a bank to which his company owed money.
      Accusations of unethical conduct and vulnerability to corruption were
      bandied about, further tarnishing the force's image.

      But task force spokesperson Mpanzi Sinyangwe pleads for patience on the
      part of the public, saying there are 150 Zambian and foreign nationals
      -- and 420 local and foreign companies -- that are being investigated.

      He also claims the force has made substantial progress in its efforts
      to retrieve the proceeds of corruption, having seized more than
      $60-million in property, vehicles, aircraft and cash.

      "Without government's intervention, all these properties and money
      would have been in private hands at the expense of 11-million Zambians
      still wallowing in poverty," Sinyangwe says.

      He adds that most people fail to appreciate the intricacies of
      large-scale investigations, and the constraints the task force is facing
      in terms of funding and resources.

      For his part, Mwanawasa remains adamant that the force should remain in
      operation, saying Zambia stands to recover more than $300-million once
      the team has concluded its work.

      But financial analyst Maulu Hamunjele is less optimistic. He believes
      that client confidentiality is posing significant barriers to the task
      force as it tries to track down the stolen funds in offshore accounts --
      and that lack of ability is again standing in the way of these barriers
      being overcome.

      "The task force not only lacks the capacity to institute
      government-to-government investigations, [but] there is no political
      will because everything is centred around Chiluba," he notes. -- IPS

      *****

      Mugabe rival loses poll challenge

      Zimbabwe's High Court has dismissed the first of the opposition's
      appeals against President Robert Mugabe's 2002 re-election.
      This ruling dealt with the Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC)
      challenge to legal irregularities.

      The judge gave no reasons for his rejection, and has yet to rule on the
      charge of electoral violence by Mr Mugabe's supporters.

      The government denies foul play, saying the results reflected the vote.


      'Unacceptable'

      "I hereby... dismiss with costs the preliminary points raised by the
      petitioner in that none of them on its own, nor all of them
      collectively, suffice at this stage to invalidate the election," said
      Justice Ben Hlatshwayo.

      The opposition were putting forward constitutional arguments in the
      first part of their petition, which was heard last November.

      Was the poll fair?
      "The use of the army in the electoral process and the electoral
      commission was not duly constituted. All these statutory instruments
      were being challenged because they were seen to be unconstitutional,"
      MDC spokesperson William Bango told AFP news agency.

      MDC legal affairs spokesperson David Coltart said that the lack of
      reasons for the dismissal was "unacceptable".

      He looked forward to the next part of the challenge which will look
      into allegations of voter intimidation by the ruling Zanu-PF party.

      "The second phase is going to be very embarrassing to the regime
      because it will graphically show how this election was stolen," Mr
      Coltart said.

      A date for the second hearing has not been set.

      MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai made the petition asking for a rerun of
      elections in April 2002, a month after the vote.

      Mr Mugabe gained 54% of the 2002 vote compared to 40% for Mr
      Tsvangirai.

      Local election observers and some of their international counterparts,
      including the European Union and the Commonwealth, declared the election
      neither free nor fair.

      However African groups gave the poll a clean bill of health.



      *****

      Zimbabwe's inflation at 448%

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      14 June 2004 00:00


      Zimbabwe's annual rate of inflation, the highest in the world,
      continued in May to slow for the fourth month in a row as it dropped to
      less than 450%, but economists said on Sunday it was inevitable that the
      rate would accelerate again soon.

      The official Central Statistical Office said year-on-year inflation in
      the fifth month of the year was 448%, 54% lower than the 505 recorded in
      April. However, month-on-month inflation rose from 4,8% in April to 6%
      in May, according to the figures, also after registering a decline since
      early this year.

      Zimbabwe is in severe economic crisis, characterised by the world's
      fastest shrinking gross domestic product of 30% in the last five years,
      and scheduled to sink more than 9% this year alone.

      Reckless economic decisions, corruption, violent repression and the
      destruction of its formerly abundant agricultural industry under
      80-year-old President Robert Mugabe are widely blamed for the collapse
      of what until five years ago was one of Africa's most robust economies.

      Inflation hit a record 623% in January this year, but in the last four
      months has slowed by 175%. The government says that the drop in the rate
      is a result of rigorous new monetary policies and devaluation of the
      local currency that has caused a sharp increase in foreign currency
      inflows. - Sapa-DPA

      *****

      Zimbabwe reveals China arms deal

      Zimbabwe's opposition has condemned a government decision to order
      fighter aircraft from China and other military equipment worth an
      estimated $200m.
      The defence ministry confirmed it was buying defence equipment from
      China.

      Opposition defence spokesman Giles Mutsekwa said 12 fighter jets and
      100 military vehicles were being bought.

      Mr Mutsekwa suggested that the move was intended to intimidate
      Zimbabweans ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held in March
      next year.


      Tendering

      Defence Ministry Secretary Trust Maphosa reportedly revealed the
      purchase during a quarterly review of the defence ministry budget in
      parliament.

      Under questioning he also admitted tendering procedures had been
      breached.

      He blamed this on security reasons and on an arms embargo slapped on
      Zimbabwe by the European Union and the United States which he said was
      making it difficult to find spare parts for the current fleet.

      Mr Mutsekwa said he was deeply concerned that parliament had not been
      informed.

      "We believe this is a kind of intimidatory tactic because we are going
      towards very crucial elections next year," he said.

      "The idea is that whatever the public does, there is a possibility of
      it being subverted by the military," he told AFP news agency.
    • 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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