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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi s judges end car strike Judges in Malawi have called off their first industrial action, after the government promised them a new fleet of four-wheel
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jan 25, 2005
      Malawi's judges end car strike

      Judges in Malawi have called off their first industrial action, after the government promised them a new fleet of four-wheel drive cars.
      However, they are getting a cheaper model than the one they had demanded. The 26 high court and supreme court judges first wanted Mercedes or BMWs.

      For four days, the judges have only heard serious cases such as murder.

      They said they were inconvenienced by their 10-year-old saloon cars, which needed constant maintenance.

      Cabinet cars

      High court registrar Sylvester Kalembera told AFP news agency that the parties "reached an agreement after lengthy deliberation and the meeting resolved that we get four-wheel drive vehicles."

      The judges had already dropped their initial demand for German vehicles and agreed to accept Toyota Prados at $80,000 each.

      Mr Kalembera said they would now get Nissan Terranos, which cost about $60,000 each.

      Former President Bakili Muluzi had originally promised to replace the cars before leaving office last year.

      The attorney general said it was unfortunate the new President Bingu wa Mutharika was being punished for Mr Muluzi's unkept pledge.

      According to the BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre, most of the judges were present in the court building but spent most of the day reading newspapers in their chambers.

      One member of the judiciary said that when a new cabinet is appointed, a fleet of expensive cars is procured for them almost immediately.

      "But most of us judges have had our official Toyota Corollas for more than 10 years."


      Abortion a Reality in Malawi With Alarming Consequences

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      January 24, 2005
      Posted to the web January 24, 2005

      Pushpa Jamieson

      Pale faced, weak and visibly tired Easter sits in a chair outside her older sister's house. It has been less than four days since she was discharged from hospital where she had surgery to remove her uterus (hysterectomy) which had become infected when she tried to remove her pregnancy.

      Although she is well on her way to recovery, the effort of even lifting her cup of tea is shown by the strain on her face and the sweat that breaks out on her brow.

      Easter is one of the lucky young girls who has survived an abortion that went wrong.

      At seventeen years, and in her last year at secondary school, she had her whole life to look forward to. An unplanned pregnancy from an older married man changed all that and brought her to the brink of death.

      When Easter informed her lover of the pregnancy, he became very concerned about her future and decided that it was "in her best interest" for her to have an abortion and continue her education.

      "He said it was important that I should continue with my school in order for me to be an educated wife when we get married". Easter adds: "He said we should be careful that no one suspects that I was pregnant and that he would take care of everything for me"

      Informing her sister that she was going to spend the weekend with her friend, she left with her lover.

      Easter will not tell anyone where she went, nor who she was with. All she says is that she was given some things to insert into her vagina and told to go home. "I felt nothing for about a day, then I started having period pains but no period came. On Monday I was in very severe pain and started bleeding. I knew there was something very wrong because I was bleeding a lot and feeling very sick. I was also vomiting and had a high fever."

      "Easter was rushed to hospital that night," her sister says adding, "we were sure that she would not recover because of the state she was in.

      The doctor told us that he would have to operate as she had such a bad infection. That is why her uterus was removed in order to save her life."

      When asked if Easter did not say what happened or who the boyfriend was, all the sister can say is: "Easter just told us that she was pregnant and wanted to remove it. We still do not know the man or who gave her the medicine. Apart from all this, we are just grateful that she is alive and that she is wiser about her life and future. It's not often one is given a second chance, I pray that she is wiser now."

      Asked what she plans to do about her future, Easter says: "I want to get better so that I can return to school. I have matured since what happened and I will never believe what men say again. I have not seen my boyfriend since I became sick and my family have paid all the hospital bills. One thing he said which was true is that I have to continue my education in order to have a better future which I will do."

      Easter is indeed a very luck young lady to have suffered only the loss of the possibility of ever having her own children. Others have not been so fortunate and have lost their lives in trying to remove unwanted pregnancies.

      Apart from this, abortions that have gone wrong result in patients receiving post abortion treatment from hospitals and other Reproductive Health Providers which put more pressure on already financially strapped facilities,

      The situation with Easter is not unique in any way. The fact is that abortions are being carried out by people who are not medical doctors and continue to put many women's lives at risk.

      Young women and girls continue to fall pregnant because of many reasons.

      Rape, coercion, lack of money are just a few reasons that sex is entered into. Unwanted and unplanned pregnancies which they terminate at the risk of developing other health problems or dying is a reality.

      Of great concern is also the fact that people are engaging in sex which puts them and the partner at risk of contracting HIV, the virus that leads to a person having AIDS.

      Abortion in Malawi is an offence and punishable by imprisonment.

      According to the Penal Code 149 through to 152 abortion is a felony which carries a maximum prison sentence of up to fourteen years.

      In November 1997 the government of Malawi developed a plan of action for the empowerment of women as a follow-up-action to the Fourth World Conference of Women which was held in Beijing in September 1995.

      One of the activities in the 1997 - 2002 plan of action was to "Review and repeal the abortion laws to provide women their reproductive health rights". The responsible bodies for the plan of action were the Ministry of Health, Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), National Family Welfare Council of Malawi and the Ministry of Women, Youth and Community Services.

      According to inform-ation sourced from the Law Commission's office, there are consultations being carried out on the review of the Penal Code under which the laws on abortions come. Consultations have reveal that although abortions are against the law, the practice is still taking place.

      The Ministry of Health has requested that a report be compiled because numerous women and young girls who seek an abortion have been subjected to many different and dangerous methods of terminating pregnancies which have resulted in some of them losing their lives.

      NGOs and other stakeholders are also looking into the law that will help safeguard the security of women and help empower them with regards to their sexual and reproductive health rights.


      Malaria 'Could Speed Up Sread of HIV'

      SciDev.Net (London)

      January 20, 2005
      Posted to the web January 20, 2005

      Priya Shetty

      Health services in developing countries should integrate programmes treating HIV/AIDS and malaria, say researchers, following publication of a study showing that having malaria could make people with HIV more likely to transmit the virus.

      The study, published last week in The Lancet, showed that levels of the HIV virus in the blood almost doubled when patients got malaria. Eight to nine weeks after being treated for malaria, HIV levels returned to what they were at the start of the study.

      Even a temporary increase in virus concentration could increase HIV transmission, warn the researchers, led by Malcolm Molyneux of the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme in Malawi.

      Molyneux's team looked at 367 people with HIV in Thyolo District, Malawi. Of these, 148 developed malaria during the study, but the team was only able to collect sufficient information for analysis from 77 of these patients.

      The researchers suggest that malaria causes HIV levels to increase because the human body's immune system produces more white blood cells to attack the malaria parasite. But stimulating the immune system like this activates the HIV virus, which begins replicating.

      This increase in viral concentration could, say the researchers, be sustained long enough to increase risk of HIV transmission.

      In an accompanying commentary in The Lancet, James Whitworth at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, and Kirsten Hewitt at the Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, also in London, say that because malaria and HIV affect large numbers of people, even small increases in transmission of HIV are important, so better integration of health services for the two diseases is crucial.

      They suggest the temporary increase in viral load reported by Molyneux's team could equate to about a 50 per cent increase in HIV transmission during this period.

      Neil French, of the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust laboratories, told SciDev.Net that discovering the exact interaction between malaria and HIV would be difficult because the research would require treating people under study for neither disease.

      Such 'non-intervention' would be unethical given the increasing availability of HIV and malaria drugs in areas affected by both diseases.

      French points out that the two diseases overlap on social as well biological levels. The poorest in society are most likely to be infected by HIV and least likely to have access to bednets to prevent malaria. Disease control programmes, he adds, should come together to provide a comprehensive package of care.

      In the developed world, the threat of simultaneous infection with HIV and other diseases has been reduced by use of antiretroviral drugs. In the developing world, however, being infected by both malaria and HIV could be more important because drugs against HIV are not widely available.

      French suggests that a pragmatic approach might be to give people with HIV bednets to reduce their chance of getting malaria.

      The World Health Organization estimates that together malaria and HIV cause more than four million deaths per year worldwide.


      MDC: 'Damned if we do ...'

      Ellen Hollemans and Sapa | Johannesburg

      25 January 2005 01:33

      The opposition Movement for Democratic Change is caught in a catch-22 situation in deciding whether to participate in Zimbabwe's upcoming general elections, party leader Morgan Tsvangirai said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

      "We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't," he told participants at a seminar on opposition parties and democracy in Africa.

      Tsvangirai said if the MDC participated in an electoral process in which the Zimbabwe people had lost confidence, it would legitimise the election.

      If it refused to take part, it risks becoming irrelevant as the only opposition political party to the ruling Zanu-PF.

      Tsvangirai listed various factors contributing to the current political environment which precluded free and fair elections.

      He said the recently created Independent Electoral Commission would not have time to become independent by the March election. The MDC was also unable to campaign freely as it had to get permission from the country's Police Commission to hold a meeting of more than three people.

      Tsvangirai said 50 000 militia belong to Zanu-PF had been specially trained to coerce and intimidate opposition members and also hindered free elections. The MDC was also being denied access to the voters' roll.

      "How can we trust it [the voters' roll] if 40% of the voters do not exist."

      Tsavangirai said the MDC would decide whether to contest the election at their national council meeting on February 1.

      "Democracy is not an event such as a single election, it is a process," he said.

      "We don't need election observers ... I call them election tourists.

      "We need monitors now to assess the situation in the country and especially in the rural areas. We don't need those that come on election day and sniff around and then draw their conclusions."

      The conference was held at the University of the Witwatersrand and was attended by, among others, Independent Democrats leader Patricia De Lille and politicians from Côte d'Ivoire. The conference was chaired by Moeletsi Mbeki from the South African Institute of International Affairs. He is also President Thabo Mbeki's brother.

      In his address to the conference, Tsvangirai reminisced about the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980.

      "We celebrated with boundless excitement. Independence marked the end of an era of colonial rule. Independence marked a new beginning."

      He said the independent government merely replaced colonial rule and that the Zimbabwean Constitution had been drafted by the British.

      "The people had no input into this independence document. The so-called Constitution was a mere compromise document, totally unconcerned about the path to freedom and to real democracy."

      "Twenty-five years down the line, that document is still the supreme law of our land."

      "The new system [the government after independence] merely replaced the colonial administrator and adopted an agenda that was at variance with the expectations and aspirations of the people," Tsvangirai said.

      "Almost a quarter of century after independence, Zimbabweans are as poor as they were in 1970, fewer people have formal sector jobs than in 1980 and life expectancy is lower than in 1960."

      "On the one occasion we were granted an audience with Mugabe, he informed us to go and form our own political party if we were serious about achieving our objectives. Well, on 11 September 1999 we did just that [and formed the MDC]".

      "The founding objective of the movement was to take over power through democratic means."

      Before leading Zimbabwe's opposition, Tsvangirai had a career in the trade unions and was elected secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

      He also was an official in Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.

      Tsvangirai has been brutally assaulted and been charged with treason three times. - Sapa, Staff Reporter
    • 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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