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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi s president rules his way Raphael Tenthani BBC correspondent in Blantyre It is exactly 100 days since the economist-turned-politician Bingu wa
    Message 1 of 1046 , Sep 2 6:10 AM
      Malawi's president rules 'his way'

      Raphael Tenthani
      BBC correspondent in Blantyre

      It is exactly 100 days since the economist-turned-politician Bingu wa Mutharika took over the reins of power in Malawi.

      President Mutharika was anointed by his predecessor Bakili Muluzi, a choice critics felt was a bid to prolong the former president's reign.

      Mr Mutharika has faced stiff resistance on all fronts.

      Senior ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) officials protested that outgoing President Bakili Muluzi had chosen Mr Mutharika, a perceived outsider to UDF politics, at their expense. Most of them quit the party in protest to join opposition ranks.

      Opposition and civil society leaders felt that as Mr Muluzi was unable to run for a third term himself he had settled for Mr Mutharika, a perceived political lightweight, who he could easily manipulate.

      'My way'

      But within his first 100 days in office, President Mutharika has proved he is his own man.

      Where people thought Mr Mutharika's presidency would be an extension of Mr Muluzi's, the new president has shown a complete departure from his predecessor.

      "I like doing things my way," he said in an interview a few days before the election on 20 May 2004.

      Where analysts say Mr Muluzi treated corruption with kid gloves, Mr Mutharika has professed "zero tolerance" on corruption.

      "I would like to warn all corrupt officials that very soon they will have nowhere to hide," he said.

      This has won him the hearts and minds of many who hitherto hated him.

      In fact there is a joke doing the rounds in Malawi that those who voted against Mr Mutharika are the ones enjoying his reign, while those who shouted themselves hoarse to ensure his victory are now sulking.


      Political analyst Boniface Dulani of the University of Malawi says Mr Mutharika has won over his critics because he is doing exactly what Mr Muluzi was not doing.

      "Mutharika has surprised most people because he was seen as somebody who was going to be led by Muluzi," says Mr Dulani.

      In July, President Mutharika ordered the arrest of the UDF chief strategist and Mr Muluzi's close aide, Humphrey Mvula, for alleged corruption to the consternation of party heavyweights.

      "Arresting Mvula is arresting the UDF itself," protested Kennedy Makwangwala, the UDF's secretary-general.

      Mr Makwangwala accused Mr Mutharika of trying to destabilise the ruling party.

      "He should not forget who put him there. We are being treated as if we lost the elections," he said.

      Mr Muluzi himself is visibly annoyed at the way Mr Mutharika has been conducting himself lately.

      "I don't want people to always be worried about when they are going to be arrested," the former president told party loyalists after state prosecutors said six ministers who serviced in Mr Muluzi's cabinet would face charges of embezzling more than $90m of state funds.


      Even opposition leaders have guardedly sung the praises of the president.

      John Tembo, veteran leader of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), says he is happy with the president's first 100 days when it comes to corruption.

      "There are signs that he [Mutharika] wants to grapple with the problem of corruption in high places. He seems to be serious on the issue so it's a good start."

      Unlikely endorsement for the president is also forthcoming from civil rights and religious leaders, who vehemently campaigned against Mr Mutharika during the election.

      One of Mr Mutharika's most bitter critics, the Reverend Daniel Gunya says church leaders campaigned against Mr Mutharika because they did not want Mr Muluzi's legacy to continue.

      "Muluzi tolerated corruption and wastefulness. Bingu has proved he is different. Maybe he can be trusted," he said.

      But, he warns, ordinary Malawians will measure the president's success on more mundane matters like his ability to deliver drugs to hospitals and fertiliser to farms.

      "The rural man or woman in the village would like it most if he began right now to address their problems... and social needs."


      Widows stripped of their rights by Aids

      Bayano Valy | Maputo, Mozambique

      01 September 2004 08:08

      When her husband died two months ago, Albertina Come did not only lose him. She also lost their house and belongings acquired through hard work over ten years of marriage.

      Come's husband is among some 97 000 Mozambicans who health authorities say will die of HIV/Aids this year alone. More than 400 000 Mozambicans have died of the disease since 1999, and the death toll is expected to reach over 1,2-million by 2010.

      Unfortunately for Come, her late husband's family blames her for his death. And as punishment, they said, she should not be entitled to any inheritance. "They locked me out of the house, and took all our belongings," she said.

      Come's plight heightened after her late husband was confined to bed. His relatives decided to move him to his mother's house, and she was left with no choice but to follow him and look after him. However, as his condition worsened, Come was told to go back to her parents. "They said his health wasn't improving because of me. That if I stayed far away from him, he would recover."

      He didn't recover. And Come was not even allowed to go to his funeral. Nor were their two sons aged seven and three. She is currently staying at her sister's place with the children. "It's not something I enjoy," she says.

      Come is not alone. Emeldina Ricardo, 25, lost her husband four months ago. She, too, was dispossessed of her properties. And, the money she received from her husband's workplace to cater for funeral expenses ended up in the hands of her in-laws who used it at their discretion.

      After the funeral, her brother in-law took all her husband's documents. Personal documents are very important as they determine the relationship between the holder and bearer. In this case, the holder can go to a bank and claim any money held in the deceased's account.

      Her brother-in-law said if she wanted any inheritance she should include his youngest son in the list of beneficiaries of the estate of her late husband. The couple had no children, so this would suggest some sort of extortion from an unscrupulous brother in-law.

      But Ricardo's problems do not end just in losing the money. "They've threatened me with expulsion from the house because, they said, I didn't bear my husband any children, and they believe I was the cause of his death," she said.

      Ricardo's husband died of Aids-related illnesses. She was accused of being unfaithful and passing the virus to him.

      Both Come and Ricardo have sought legal redress. But since government does not have legal aid mechanisms in place, the women will have to rely, at least for the time being, on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for support.

      The Mozambican Women Lawyers' Association, an NGO, is already looking into Come and Ricardo's cases as well as other women's. General Secretary Orlanda Lampiao said the association started receiving cases related to people living with HIV/Aids, especially women, at the end of 2003. Rights now, Mozambique has only HIV/Aids anti-discrimination laws in the workplace.

      "Most of the cases were referred to us by Médécins sans Frontièrs (Doctors Without Borders) and 80% of them are regarding women," Lampiao said. According to her, all the cases had one common denominator: denial of inheritance to women because of suspicions they infected their spouses with the virus.

      "The relatives of the deceased don't accept sharing the assets because it's assumed that the woman passed the virus to the man. And what worsens the situation is that sometimes the children are rejected," she said. "Many women are expelled from their houses, and have no right to compensation."

      Mozambique's Family Law does not tackle HIV/Aids and inheritance issues head-on, although some clauses mention widowhood. The widow should have been married officially to the deceased in order to be entitled to his estate.

      This aspect of sole recognition of a civil marriage has been redressed in a new Family Law which the Mozambican parliament unanimously approved recently. It sweeps away the male chauvinism inherent in the Civil Code inherited from Portuguese colonial rule.

      The new law recognises "de facto unions", which mean that couples in a stable relationship and who do not bother to enter into any kind of marriage have been placed on an equal footing with couples married officially. But the couple should have lived together for at least a year for their marriage to be regarded as a "de facto union". And the children will have the same protection as children of any marriage. In case of a break up, the man will no longer be able to shrug off responsibility for the children, and may find himself obliged to pay maintenance to his ex-partner.

      The new law, which will be published in the official gazette, the Boletim da Republica, will come into effect next year.

      Sansao Buque, of Women and Social Welfare department, says women are discriminated against when dividing the estate of the deceased. He urged women to make use of existing channels such as courts, as well as civil societies and family structures to have their grievances addressed.

      For Buque, the main problem is ignorance. The majority of 53% of Mozambique's women lives in rural areas, and as many as 71,2 percent of them are illiterate. "There's need for the dissemination of the laws, even in local languages," he said.

      This ignorance of laws most often makes women even more vulnerable than they were, he said.

      Buque said progress has been made to address some of the issues compounding gender inequality. Ten years after the UN conference on women in the Chinese capital Beijing, more and more women are participating in politics, in decision-making bodies and in economy, he said.

      Mozambique is currently adding the final touches to a study commissioned by the United Nations seeking to find the main causes of violence against women, he said. Mozambique has been selected to represent Africa as part of an International Violence Against Women Survey.

      "This study can help us understand the reasons for violence against women. It's not sufficient to say it's poverty," he said.

      Like Mozambique, the plight of widows is similar in the 13-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) where they are overburdened with raising children.

      Orphans are increasingly more likely to be living in female-headed and grandmother households as a result of HIV/Aids, according to the 2004 Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) report.

      In five SADC countries -- Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland -- 15% or more of all orphans became an orphan in 2003, UNAids said.

      In Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, more than one in five children will be orphaned by 2010, it warned.

      It will, however, take time for SADC countries, most of who are steeped in traditions, to formulate laws to address the issues affecting widows. -- IPS


      oot-and-mouth disease spreads in Zambia

      Lusaka, Zambia

      02 September 2004 11:21

      An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that was discovered last week in Zambia's Southern Province has spread to various parts of the country, threatening beef exports, an official said on Thursday.

      The disease, which usually kills cattle, is spreading quickly in the Southern African country because of a lack of vaccines.

      Agriculture Ministry official Morrison Kunda told state radio that the disease has spread to Central Province where 8 000 animals have been affected and close to 15 000 animals are likely to contract the disease.

      Kunda said the government has now banned cattle movement from the Central Province of Zambia, a few days after a similar ban was imposed in Southern Province in an effort to curb the disease.

      About 5 000 animals have been affected by foot and mouth in Southern Province and 18 000 are at risk.

      Minister of Agriculture Mundia Sikatana on Monday said the spread of foot-and-mouth disease is threatening Zambia's beef exports to the European Union market.

      "We have to move quickly in combating this disease or else we may face an export ban from the EU market," Sikatana said.

      The disease causes sores on the mouth and feet of the animal. -- Sapa-AFP


      Zimbabwe tobacco crop falls again

      Zimbabwe's tobacco crop, one of its main sources of hard currency, has fallen for the fourth year in a row.
      Official figures show Zimbabwe had sold just over 64 million kilograms of the plant by Monday, the penultimate day of the 2004 tobacco selling season.

      The crop, down sharply from 80 million kgs last year, generated revenues of about $130m (£71.5m; 104m euros).

      The latest tobacco harvest continues a pattern of steady decline that began four years ago.

      Production disrupted

      The slump partly reflects disruptions caused by the government's policy of redistributing white-owned land.

      The latest tobacco crop compares with a harvest of 237 million kgs in 2000, the year land redistribution began.

      New black farmers are reported to have had difficulties raising money to invest in machinery and agricultural inputs such as fertiliser.

      The agriculture industry has also suffered from rampant inflation and high borrowing costs.

      Zimbabwe's dwindling tobacco crop leaves the country with less hard currency to buy vital imported commodities such as fuel and medicine.

      The final tally of the 2004 tobacco crop could be slighly higher once 'mop-up' sales, due to take place in September, are taken into account.

      The bulk of Zimbabwe's tobacco is exported to Asia and the European Union.
    • 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.


        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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