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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi fears over tobacco treaty Malawi, one of the biggest producers of tobacco, is coming under pressure to sign a new treaty limiting its production. The
    Message 1 of 1046 , Sep 29, 2004
      Malawi fears over tobacco treaty

      Malawi, one of the biggest producers of tobacco, is coming under pressure to sign a new treaty limiting its production.
      The World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has been signed by 168 countries.

      Tobacco, or "green gold", accounts for 70% of Malawi's export earnings, the BBC's Health Matters reports.

      Some government ministers are concerned signing up to the convention could mean millions are condemned to poverty.

      Malawi is the largest producer of burley - a type of tobacco particularly favoured by manufacturers as a filler in cigarettes.

      The crop accounts for up to one third of the country's Gross Domestic Product. In Malawi the mantra is tobacco saves, not kills.

      But this situation could change. The World Health Organization estimates five million people die from tobacco related illness each year.

      'Technical reasons'

      The convention seeks to reduce both supply and demand of tobacco and its possible effect is dividing a country that ranks among the 10 poorest nations in the world.

      While 168 countries have signed the convention and another 31 have ratified it, it must be ratified by nine more to become meaningful in terms of International law.

      Malawi is one of those countries which has yet to sign.

      Dr Wesley Sengala of the Ministry of Health ascribes the failure to sign to "technical reasons".

      But in a country where smoking rates are relatively low and the burden of tobacco related illness pales into insignificance alongside the HIV/Aids epidemic, public health arguments hold little sway.

      However, the convention does take into account tobacco dependent countries.

      It offers monetary and technical assistance for countries to wean themselves off tobacco.

      Dr Sengala is using these economic and agricultural imperatives to win over the sceptics in government.

      "What we are explaining is that we could take advantage of this framework to diversify our economy," he said.

      However, not everyone remains convinced. Chakufwa Chiana, the Minister of Agriculture, is palpably aware of the fragility of Malawi's monoculture, but his resistance is based on the effects tobacco controls may have.

      He wants to invite the WHO to Malawi to see "the scale of poverty that will engulf the seven million people that will be affected by the impact of this convention".

      Yet Malawi may face a more immediate crisis. Over the last 10 years tobacco prices have fallen by up to 50%.

      The WHO believes this is a result of the tobacco industry transferring their increasing litigation costs on to the tobacco producers.

      Rather than encouraging diversification, the price drops have encouraged farmers to seek out more profitable forms of tobacco - like flue cured.

      But Dr Sengala believes change is coming. Following talks with the recently elected President Bingu wa Mutharika, he thinks that Malawi could sign the convention in the next three months.

      Signing could be the easiest step. Changing the mindset of Malawian's maybe the greatest challenge of all.


      Malawi NGOs Urge Berenger to Block Bill

      Zimbabwe Independent (Harare)

      September 24, 2004
      Posted to the web September 24, 2004

      Gift Phiri

      A NETWORK of human rights non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Malawi has urged Mauritian Prime Minister and current Southern African Development Community (Sadc) chairman, Paul Berenger, to help block Zimbabwe's proposed NGO Bill.

      The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC) last week wrote to Berenger, who became Sadc chairman last month, seeking his intervention on the issue. The group also appealed to the United Nations, the African Union and Sadc leaders to intervene to stop the repressive Bill.

      "The consultative committee understands that the objective of the proposed new law is, according to the government of Zimbabwe, to 'provide an enabling environment for the operations and regulation of NGOs' in Zimbabwe," the HRCC said in a petition.

      "The committee is however concerned that the proposed law, in its application, will have the effect of criminalising the activities of civil society organisations, especially those working in the field of human rights and good governance, thereby making liable to prosecution individuals belonging to organisations engaged in the legitimate and peaceful activities of promoting human rights."

      The petition, copied to President Robert Mugabe, chief secretary to Malawian President Bingu wa Mutarika, Bright Masaka, and the South African high commissioner to Malawi, Nthutang Seleka, says the HRCC is strongly opposed to the legislation.

      The proposed NGO law imposes restrictive registration formalities for human rights NGOs and denies them access to foreign financial assistance. The law will make it mandatory for all NGOs to be registered with the proposed NGO Council of Zimbabwe, a government-run body. Individual members who breach the regulations will be liable to criminal prosecution.

      The HRCC warned Mugabe to stop passage of stringent laws that target people and institutions.

      "The committee appeals to the Zimbabwean government to suspend the proposed promulgation of the NGO law until a comprehensive review has been done, following wider consultations amongst all sections of the Zimbabwean society, including with the NGO community."


      Women protesters held in Zimbabwe

      29 September 2004 06:59

      advertisementPolice in Zimbabwe arrested 48 women on a protest march against new legislation on Tuesday that they say will be used to restrict human rights organisations.

      The members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) had walked 400km from Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city, and were stopped just 30km from Harare, their destination.

      The organiser, Jenni Williams, said the marchers, and four men who volunteered to protect them as they slept by the roadside en route, were taken to Norton police station.

      A police spokesperson, assistant commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, told Zimbabwe state television that the women had been arrested for staging an illegal protest and would be charged under security laws.

      Bvudzijena said the women initially claimed they were on a fundraising march for their church, but were found carrying placards with political messages.

      Williams said the women began the 12-day march last week to raise money and awareness for human rights work at a time when Robert Mugabe's government had proposed a law to restrict human rights organisations.

      "This was a march to protest against the government's plans to enact the NGO (non-governmental organisations) bill, which we all believe will be used as a repressive tool to ban and to control human rights work in Zimbabwe," said Williams.

      The NGO bill seeks to ban foreign human rights groups and bar local advocacy groups from campaigning on "issues of governance". Mugabe accuses Britain and other western powers of using NGOs to work against his government.

      Woza has become one of the most militant groups protesting at the government. The women, almost all black and churchgoers, have in the past protested at food shortages by banging empty pots and pans in the streets.

      Williams said that, since the group was founded in 2002, at least 300 members have been arrested for what she called "trivial issues", such as handing out red roses symbolising peace on Valentine's day and calling for the lowering of food prices. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004


      Mixing politics with food in Zimbabwe

      Wilson Johwa | Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

      29 September 2004 08:59

      advertisementFood and politics, as Zimbabweans are finding out, are not always mutually exclusive. If they were, what would explain official claims of a bumper harvest when independent assessments suggest otherwise?

      The clue seems to be parliamentary elections -- now only six months away.

      The last presidential poll, as well as subsequent by-elections, was mired in dispute partly because the ruling party was accused of baiting needy rural voters with subsidised or free food. It is widely believed that, once again, the state is pursuing a similar strategy which demands it controls as much of the country's food stocks as possible before next March's election.

      A UN-led assessment mission says about five million of the southern African country's 12-million people will need food aid before the next harvest in March.

      Yet in the last four months the government repeatedly stated Zimbabwe will not need food assistance this year. As a result, international donors, like the World Food Programme (WFP), responded by scaling down relief assistance which had been in place in the last three years due to the destructive effects of drought and the land-reform programme, which began in 2000.

      "By the time of the elections (the ruling party) ZANU-PF will control all staple food supplies and we fully anticipate that they will use food as a weapon of intimidation and coercion," says Eddie Cross, economic advisor to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

      A law restricting the activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), especially on governance issues, is also expected to be passed next month. Its effects, critics say, will be to control those likely to interfere with the government's election plans.

      In the last four years, the country has been caught up in a political crisis triggered by the disputed parliamentary and presidential polls of 2000 and 2002. An accompanying land-reform programme -- meant to redistribute farms owned by 4 500 whites to black peasants -- has precipitated an economic collapse.

      Last month the MDC announced it was suspending participation in elections. It argued that repressive laws, state-sponsored political violence as well as biased electoral machinery, tilted the environment in favour of the ruling party. However, the MDC expects to have finished selecting candidates for all the 120 constituencies by the end of September.

      The party says it will revoke its boycott when the government implements protocols on free and fair elections it acceded to in August at a summit of the 13-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) held in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. They include setting up a truly independent electoral commission, granting the opposition media space and the right to campaign.

      MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube says the election protocol does not make specific reference to the manipulation of food except in broad terms when it alludes to freedom of voter choice and non-abuse of state assets. "The whole idea of shutting out donors is that when food availability will be at its most critical, Zanu-PF will be able to strangulate voters in exchange for votes, saying 'it's either you vote for us or starve','' he says.

      In the meantime, however, conflicting figures of food stocks are keeping Zimbabweans guessing.

      Earlier September the head of the state monopoly Grain Marketing Board (GMB) told parliamentarians the organisation had grain stocks of only 298 000 tonnes, or the equivalent to two months supply. Even after accounting for anticipated seasonal deliveries of another 5 000 tonnes of the staple maize crop, it seems the country would be short of at least half its annual grain requirements of 1,8-million tonnes.

      Yet government officials persist with the claim that 2,4-million tonnes of grain, mainly maize, will be realised this year.

      Meanwhile reports, quoting local officials, say 162 malnutrition-related deaths have occurred in the country's second city, Bulawayo since January.

      Such data has not been music to the ears of government officials. That the local authority is run by the opposition doesn't help matters. In spite of the city's reputation for relative competence and transparency, the government claims it is playing politics, not least to discredit the controversial land-reform programme.

      Brian Raftopoulos, a professor of development studies at the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies, says the government could well be holding more food than it admits. "I think they are keeping the food situation very close to their chest," he says.

      Although the government has denied augmenting supplies with imports, it is believed grain is secretly being brought in from neighbouring South Africa.

      Cross says the World Food Programme is known to have asked Zambia to hold on to 100 000 tonnes of maize for possible procurement, while contracts are reported to have been signed with South Africa and Argentina. "I understand that 200 000 tonnes is being imported," he says. "It may have already arrived as we are seeing maize wagons every week."

      Even though reports of food manipulation are beginning to accompany each major election in Zimbabwe, it appears over the last two years simmering political tensions have spilt into food distribution.

      "What we know is that there are areas which still need a lot of food," says David Chimhini, the director of the Zimbabwe Civic and Education Trust, an NGO that operates across the country. "I think the government should start distributing food now and not at a particular time," he says.

      In a report released at the end of last year, Human Rights Watch, based in New York, found that Zimbabwean authorities discriminated against perceived political opponents by denying them access to food programmes.

      The 51-page report, called Not Eligible: The politicisation of food in Zimbabwe, documents how food is denied to members of the MDC, and to employees of former commercial farmers, resettled under the controversial land-reform programme. The report also examines the widespread politicisation of the government's subsidised grain programme, managed by the GMB as well as the far less extensive manipulation of international food aid.

      Raftopoulos says while food will be important in the coming election, especially if the MDC decides to participate, the decisive factor will be a combination of other issues. They will include the flawed electoral system, state control of the media, the incapacitation of the MDC and civic society as well as the demoralisation of the population.

      He warns that even if the state is earnestly short of food, Zimbabweans "shouldn't underestimate the capacity of these guys to get the food they need to use during the elections." -- IPS
    • 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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