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  • Christine Chumbler
    Parliamentary Committee Summons Freed Journalists International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House (Toronto) PRESS RELEASE March 22, 2005 Posted to
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 28, 2005
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      Parliamentary Committee Summons Freed Journalists

      International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House (Toronto)

      PRESS RELEASE
      March 22, 2005
      Posted to the web March 25, 2005

      Toronto

      On March 18 2005, journalists Mabvuto Banda of "The Nation" newspaper and Raphael Tenthani of the BBC who were arrested by police on March 15, 2005 and charged with 'publishing false information that is likely to cause breach of peace', appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Media and Communications to state their side of story.

      Banda and Tenthani were arrested together with former journalist Horace Nyaka, now an aide to vice president Cassim Chilumpha, who was suspected to have conspired with the two to write the story. Nyaka did not appear before the Committee as he was summoned too late.


      The Committee interviewed presidential adviser on religious affairs Rev. Malani Mtonga on Thursday, March 17 2005, to ascertain his role in the debacle. Mtonga was quoted by the journalists as confirming that he was organising special prayers to cleanse the State House off ghosts.

      "It is true we want to hear from the three journalists. We want to find out what they know and how they are involved," said Committee chairperson Berson Lijenda.

      Mtonga told the local media that the Committee found his explanation convincing. Both Banda and Tenthani said they stood by their story before the committee.

      The Committee will make public its position on the issue.

      Banda and Tenthani were arrested following articles they wrote alleging that President Bingu wa Mutharika was not spending nights at the State House because it was haunted by ghosts, while Horace Nyaka the aide to the vice president was suspected to have conspired with the two to write the story.

      Nyaka was released after meeting the Director of Criminal Investigations at the national police headquarters at noon on March 16. Banda and Tenthani were released at 18h30 that same day after meeting with the Inspector General (IG) of police at the police headquarters. They were ordered to report to Blantyre Police station after 14 days.


      *****

      Zanzibar police 'too busy', so ban political rallies

      26 March 2005 08:48

      Zanzibar's police chief banned all political rallies and meetings on Friday until further notice because he said his force was too busy with other duties, just six months before general elections and despite the recent deployment of thousands of reinforcements.

      George Kizugutu, head of the police on the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, said "the police force is busy working with other crucial national assignments, so it wouldn't be practical to add another burden to the force."

      Voter registration in the most populous, and politically tense, part of Zanzibar was set to begin April 4. He called on all political parties to respect his ban on any kind of gathering, even though legally he does not have the authority to stop such activities.

      Kizugutu's order follows the deployment of thousands of police reinforcements last week and their sudden appearance on the streets of Zanzibar's main Stone Town in riot gear. Stone Town is an opposition stronghold.

      Tanzania's Inspector General of Police, Harun Mahita, said the deployment - code-named "Operation Dondola" - was necessary to provide security during voter registration. A dondola is a bee-like insect that has a very painful bite.

      Under Zanzibari law, organisers must notify the police of any public gathering so that security can be provided, but police do not have the authority to ban political activities. Salim Bimani, a spokesman for the opposition Civic United Front, dismissed Kizugutu's statement, insisting it was unconstitutional.

      "Where is the democracy here ... why does the police create tension in Zanzibar?" he asked. Political tension has run high since competing rallies by the front and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party turned violent March 7 and police began arresting opposition party members.

      Police summoned the Civic United Front's leader, Seif Shariff Hamad, Thursday to explain why the March 7 clashes took place and ruling-party supporters attempted to storm his house and attack him, Bimani said. General elections are scheduled for Oct. 23.

      The last elections, in 2000, were marred by violence and irregularities. - Sapa-AP

      *****

      Jailed opposition white MP won't stand

      Harare

      28 March 2005 09:00

      Zimbabwe's new electoral court has reversed one of its very first judgements allowing a jailed opposition lawmaker to run in elections in his constituency that were to have been held at the end of April, state media reported on Sunday.

      Roy Bennett, one of three white Zimbabweans who hold seats in parliament, is serving a one-year prison term for shoving the justice minister during a heated debate in parliament in May last year.

      The reversal in the court ruling means that Bennett's wife, Heather, will run for the elections in her husband's place in the eastern Chimanimani constituency where he won victory in the last parliamentary elections in 2000.

      Electoral court Judge Tendai Uchena on March 15 ordered that voting in Chimanimani be delayed by a month to allow the incarcerated deputy to run for the elections but the decision was reversed after the election commission challenged the ruling.

      "The election in Chimanimani constituency, which had been postponed by the judgement of the 15th of March 2005, shall proceed as initially scheduled," chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi was quoted as saying by the Sunday Mail in a ruling issued on Thursday.

      The court went back on its decision after President Robert Mugabe criticised it as "absolute nonsense".

      "I don't understand the court's decision. We will study the decision and appeal against it," Mugabe said just two days after the judgement was handed down.

      The electoral court was set up this year after Mugabe amended the country's laws to allow for the establishment of a court to handle electoral disputes.

      Bennett is serving a year-long jail sentence imposed by parliament last October for manhandling Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa during a heated debate on land seizures.

      "We can't be held to ransom by a man who is in prison. That is absolute nonsense," said Mugabe, urging his supporters to "proceed" with poll preparations "as if nothing happened."

      MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai held a rally in the area, introducing Heather as the party's candidate for the parliamentary elections on Thursday, Zimbabwe's sixth elections since independence in 1980.

      Bennett early this month lost a court bid to win early release from jail.

      Zimbabwean voters go to the polls on Thursday for elections that Mugabe's government has assured a southern African regional bloc will take place in a free and fair environment.

      The MDC contends that conditions are tilted in favour of the ruling party which has the state machinery at its disposal.

      Elections held in 2000 and 2002 in Zimbabwe were marred by violence and allegations of fraud and vote-rigging, compounding a political crisis in the southern African country that has been ruled by the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) for 25 years. - Sapa-AFP

      *****

      MDC fears Zim vote is already lost

      Harare

      28 March 2005 09:00

      Zimbabwe's opposition is steeling itself for defeat in this week's parliamentary elections as new allegations emerge of plans to rig the ballot. Veteran observers such as Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, believe the opposition has already lost the election.

      The archbishop on Saturday called for "a nonviolent popular uprising" to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, but leaders of the MDC believe there is little hope of Ukraine-style street protests in a country cowed by years of violence.

      David Coltart, the MDC's legal affairs spokesperson, said: "I'm not sure that the people of Zimbabwe are ready yet to go to the streets. This isn't Kiev or Belgrade.

      "We don't have the same communications as those European countries have. We don't have independent radio stations. We don't have sympathetic neighbours. And people understand that."

      In the run-up to Thursday's election, Mugabe has appointed a former army colonel to head the country's electoral commission, and signed laws allowing military officers to be election officials.

      Senior military officers have close politicial ties to Mugabe, who has rewarded their loyalty with confiscated commercial farms.

      The voters' rolls are being stuffed with fictitious names, opponents claim. One investigation of 500 homes found that nearly a fifth of the people on the roll were not at their supposed addresses.

      The government has also been accused of manipulating the voters' roll in rural constituencies, where Zanu-PF is traditionally stronger.

      In one remote rural constituency east of the capital, Harare, the MDC claims that 14,000 names have been added to the roll since the presidential election three years ago.

      By contrast, in urban Bulawayo South, which has an opposition MP, just 3 600 people have joined the roll.

      The government has agreed to an MDC demand that ballot boxes should be made of plastic rather than wood so that election observers can see the level of votes inside in an attempt to prevent them being stuffed with fake votes.

      But instead of being translucent, as the opposition requested, the boxes will be made of clear plastic, meaning that the ballot papers will be visible from the outside.

      Coltart said: "They're putting the word out, 'Now we're going to know how your village voted. And if you as a village want food, you're going to vote for us.'"

      The opposition's campaigning takes place despite draconian legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act that prohibits political gatherings without prior approval from the police.

      The police have used the act to disrupt MDC rallies and arrest speakers.

      "Five and a half years of brutal repression have left a legacy of fear in this country," said Andrew Moyse, the coordinator of the Zimbabwe media monitoring project. "The laws are there to silence the media and curb people's freedom of association.

      "They've just started allowing opposition rallies to happen in the last few weeks."

      Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, is the centre of opposition to Mugabe. Campaigning takes place here in churches, homes and municipal parks.

      At one MDC rally last week, dancers in black jeans and white trainers shimmied to a hip-hop soundtrack in a dusty park. Opposition speakers implored voters to turn out in huge numbers.

      "That's the only way we can stop this election being rigged," said one.

      As he spoke, a Nissan minivan converted for use as a commuter bus zoomed into the clearing. Youths leaped out raising their hands in the MDC's trademark gesture, an open palm.

      They taped a campaign poster to the back of their van, then zoomed off, to cheers from the crowd.

      MDC supporters point to the excitement at their rallies as proof there is a groundswell of support in the country.

      "If there's a [Zanu-PF] landslide, there may not be an immediate response." Mr Coltart said. "But Mugabe is going to find it very difficult to govern, difficult to maintain any semblance of legitimacy."

      One factor in the opposition's favour is that the ruling party is in disarray.

      Mugabe has appointed members of his own clan, the Zezuru, to every important position in the party, including his new vice-president, Joyce Mujuru.

      The former information minister Jonathan Moyo fell out with the president after campaigning against the appointment of Mujuru. He is now standing for parliament as an independent.

      Six provincial party chairpersons, all from non-Zezuru areas, were suspended for refusing to endorse Mujuru.

      But even if the opposition wins a majority of the seats being contested, there is another hurdle to overcome. The ruling party has a head start because Mr Mugabe appoints the occupants of 30 of the 150 seats in the Zimbabwean parliament.

      SA observers expect high turnout
      The large number of people attending election rallies boded well for a high voter turn-out in Zimbabwe's general election, says the South African observer mission (SAOM).

      "... the mission is encouraged by the high turn-out at rallies by Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)," the SAOM said in a statement.

      "As a result the mission anticipates high voter turn-out on voting day," it said, adding that campaigning had been peaceful.

      Zimbabweans go to the polls on Thursday.

      The SAOM said it had been in Zimbabwe since March 14, and had observed 31 rallies held by Zanu-PF and the MDC.

      The observers, led by Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana and advocate Ngoako Ramotlhodi, had also monitored voter education sessions, party canvassing sessions and visited polling stations.

      The mission had met representatives from Zanu-PF, the MDC, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Electoral Supervisory Commission, the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition and the National Constitutional Assembly.

      The SAOM said it still planned to meet the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. - Sapa, Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
    • 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 8:06 AM
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.

        *****

        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.

        Crackdown

        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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