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  • Christine Chumbler
    DPP Wants Misa to Discipline Journalists Media Institute of Southern Africa (Windhoek) PRESS RELEASE March 24, 2005 Posted to the web March 30, 2005 Director
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 31, 2005
      DPP Wants Misa to Discipline Journalists

      Media Institute of Southern Africa (Windhoek)

      March 24, 2005
      Posted to the web March 30, 2005

      Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Ishmael Wadi said on March 23
      2005, that government would be compelled to prosecute two journalists
      arrested over the ghost story if they are not disciplined.

      Wadi said he would give the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) -
      Malawi chapter, also known as the National Media Institute of Southern
      Africa (Namisa), a reasonable period to take action against Mabvuto
      Banda of "The Nation" and Raphael Tenthani of BBC.

      However, Namisa chairperson Lewis Msasa said there was no way the two
      journalists would be disciplined when there was evidence that they
      talked to the presidential aide on religious affairs, Malani Mtonga.

      The top government prosecutor said he had not yet decided to drag the
      matter to court but observed that there was need to amend the police
      charge. "I expect the media body to communicate to me on the
      disciplinary action they are going to take. That I will appreciate,
      because if we take each and every case to court, we may flood the
      courts," he said.

      Wadi was, however, quick to point out that: "I will be compelled to
      take the matter to court. But of course, this matter can best be
      addressed at an institutional level, so I expect MISA Malawi to come to
      me on that one.

      On the charges levelled against the journalists, the DPP said there
      were several elements in the police charge of publishing false news
      likely to cause public alarm, which could not be easily proved. He added
      however that he was considering to amend the charge to 'publishing an
      article calculated to disrespect the high office of the president
      contrary to Section 4 of the Protected Flags, Emblems and Names Act,
      Chapter 1803 of the Laws of Malawi'. But some commentators observed that
      the Act was outdated since it was in conflict with the Constitution and
      does not comply with the democratic dispensation.

      Msasa said much as the organisation appreciated government's gesture on
      the matter, it could not apologise on behalf of the journalists when
      there was evidence. Therefore he felt that the matter should be decided
      in court.


      The two scribes, who were arrested on March 15 2005, are currently on
      police bail and also appeared before the Parliamentary Media and
      Communications Committee.

      Another journalist, Horace Nyaka, who works at the Vice- President
      Cassim Chilumpha's press office, was also arrested as an accomplice. He
      was released unconditionally.

      The committee first heard from Mtonga who complained to police that
      although the two journalists quoted him in their respective stories, he
      did not talk to them. In the story, Mtonga was quoted as saying
      religious leaders would gather at the New State House to pray for
      President Bingu wa Mutharika who was being haunted by evil spirits.

      Opposition parties, human rights organisations and the civil society
      condemned the arrests, saying they were meant to instill fear in the

      In the absence of a functioning media council or similar regulatory
      body, MISA Malawi has often assumed the role of a mediator between
      government, the media and general public.


      Zim voters queue to cast ballots

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      31 March 2005 08:28

      Zimbabweans waited in long lines on Thursday to cast ballots in
      parliamentary elections that President Robert Mugabe hopes will prove
      once and for all the legitimacy of a regime critics say is increasingly
      isolated and repressive.

      Before any ballots were cast, opposition leaders and independent rights
      groups said the vote was already skewed by years of violence and

      Despite a light rain, residents in the capital, Harare, started
      gathering at the polls up to three hours before they opened. There were
      some delays as electoral officials completed last-minute preparations
      under the watchful eye of police.

      Mugabe accuses British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Western
      leaders of backing the six-year-old Movement for Democratic Change
      (MDC), the first party to challenge his rule seriously. He dubbed
      Thursday's vote the "anti-Blair election", and MDC supporters

      "My vote today will be a vote for Zimbabwe's sovereignty," said Thomas
      Mseruka, a 46-year-old carpenter and ardent government supporter. "I'll
      be voting to defend our country."

      "I wanted to be the first in the queue, to be served early," said
      Beauty Chigutiare. "We need change. We want jobs, we want good houses."

      The opposition counters that British Prime Minister Tony Blair isn't
      running in Thursday's poll, which it says is about Mugabe's own failings
      after nearly 25 years in power.

      Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk by 50% over the past five years.
      Unemployment is at least 70%. Agriculture -- the economic base of
      Zimbabwe -- has collapsed and at least 70% of the population lives in

      Opposition leaders blame the country's economic woes on the
      government's often-violent seizure of thousands of white-owned
      commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

      Mugabe defends the programme as a way of righting racial imbalances in
      land ownership inherited from British colonial rule, and blames food
      shortages on years of crippling drought.

      At stake on Thursday are 120 elected parliamentary seats. Mugabe
      appoints another 30 seats, virtually guaranteeing his Zanu-PF party a

      About 5,8-million of Zimbabwe's nearly 12-million people are registered
      to vote. But up to 3,4-million Zimbabweans who live overseas -- many of
      whom are believed to be opposition supporters -- have been barred from
      casting ballots.

      The opposition MDC won 57 seats in the last parliamentary election in
      2000, despite what Western observers called widespread violence,
      intimidation and vote rigging. But it has lost six seats in subsequent

      In 2002, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai narrowly lost an equally flawed
      presidential poll.

      While there has been much less violence during this campaign,
      opposition leaders and rights groups said intimidation remained high.
      Residents in drought-stricken rural areas were told they could forfeit
      desperately needed food aid if they voted for the opposition, they

      A series of repressive laws introduced since 2000 drastically curtailed
      the opposition's ability to meet, express its views and access the
      media. While restrictions eased in recent weeks to allow campaigning by
      all sides, rights groups said the damage was already done.

      Mugabe's government hand-picked election observers, barring groups that
      were critical of previous polls.

      Rights groups have also raised concerns about the voters' roll.

      Based on an audit of 10% of the list, the FreeZim group concluded it
      contains up to one million dead people, more than 300 000 duplicate
      names and one million people who no longer reside at their registered

      Mugabe has 'already won'
      Meanwhile, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) president
      Willie Madisha told supporters during a Wednesday-night vigil at the
      Beit Bridge border post that Mugabe had already won his country's

      In an address to protesters demonstrating in solidarity with Zimbabwean
      workers Cosatu believes are suffering rights violations, Madisha said
      the elections will not be free and fair, reported South African
      Broadcasting Corporation radio news.

      "The fact that he [Mugabe] has been able to redemarcate the elections
      districts in a way that favours him and his party, [is a problem] for

      "The areas where he does not have support, like in the urban areas,
      have been cut in a way that they have been said to attach to the rural
      areas. That's one thing," said Madisha.

      "Secondly, there has been harassment, there has been intimidation,
      there have been arrests of people. That is yet another problem," he
      said. -- Sapa

      Pictures at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/4396779.stm


      Nearly as good as new will do just fine

      Maputo, Mozambique

      30 March 2005 09:59

      At 9am on a Monday morning, the used clothing vendors at Chiquelene
      Market in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, are still unpacking their

      The contents of bales of clothing purchased from wholesalers in the
      city centre are inspected with care: a good batch containing newer, more
      fashionable clothing can yield good sales; a bale containing more worn
      items in dated styles may mean a difficult week ahead.

      "Sometimes I have to throw them away," said Angelina Arnaldo, as she
      sorts through a pile of underwear, separating boxers from briefs.

      The sale of clothing donated to charities in Europe and North America
      has supported Arnaldo and her seven children for 17 years. On a good
      day, she takes home around $10.

      "It's easier than selling food because it doesn't go off," she
      explained, as a man wearing a "Merry Christmas" baseball cap hands her 5
      000 meticais ($0.33) for a pair of boxers emblazoned with cartoon
      characters from Snow White. "But business was better before -- these
      days, people don't have money even for used clothes, and there are more
      people selling than before."

      Shoppers with less time and more money browse through stalls displaying
      new clothing near the front of the market, but most people duck past the
      cheaply made imports from China, Dubai and South Africa, and squeeze
      their way down narrow, maze-like passageways, dodging puddles and young
      boys hawking cigarettes, in search of the used clothing section.

      Hundreds of vendors compete for business in this sprawling market, one
      of several in Maputo, where large quantities of used clothing change
      hands. Some specialise in jeans; others sell only men's white shirts or
      women's swimwear. Vendors report that most of the clothing comes from
      Canada, but, judging from the labels, most of it originated in the
      United States and was shipped via Canada.

      T-shirts reveal the most about their origins. "Wrestling Camp 1983 --
      Portland, Or", reads a well-worn yellow shirt. "Life's a Beach --
      Laurie's Bar-mitzvah, Oct 12, '96", announces another. A red T-shirt
      with a picture of a naked lady trumpets, "May's Club -- Rose City's
      First Topless".

      Maura Marina is shopping for the baby she is expecting in a couple of
      months. She buys clothes for her entire family from Chiquelene Market --
      not, she said, because she cannot afford new clothes, but because she
      prefers the quality.

      Marina insisted she drew the line at used underwear but vendors and
      wholesalers report that women's bras are one of their biggest sellers.
      Trying on a bra for size, another woman said she also preferred the
      quality of used clothes from Europe and North America, but the real
      clincher was the price -- a new bra would set her back around $20,
      compared to around $1 for a used one.

      In an effort to protect local garment manufacturers, several African
      countries have imposed bans on the influx of used clothing but, in
      Mozambique, where the textile industry has not recovered from a long
      civil war that ended in 1992, used clothing has become an integral part
      of the economy.

      Bipin Lalgi manages one of about 14 used clothing wholesalers in
      Maputo, where all the bales filling his store arrived in a container
      from Toronto. A 45kg bale sells for between 1,5- and 2,5-million
      meticais ($100 to $170), depending on the quality and type of clothing
      it contains.

      "If they stopped us importing these clothes, many people would suffer
      from poverty," Lalgi said. When the shop opened in 1996, he could shift
      around 50 bales of clothing a day, but in recent years competition from
      other wholesalers has seen sales decline to around 15 bales a day.

      The president of the Textile Federation in neighbouring South Africa,
      Walter Simeoni, argues that many more jobs could be created in the long
      term by banning imports of used clothing and investing in local

      After thousands of job losses in the sector, South Africa implemented
      such a ban in 1999. Although Simeoni conceded that the ban had not
      prevented South Africa's textile industry from continuing to flounder
      due to other factors, including the massive influx of cheap clothing
      from China, he maintains that a similar ban would benefit countries like

      "I know there's a moral issue attached, and that governments say, 'we
      have poor people who've got to have access to this used clothing'. On
      the other hand, as long as they have the used clothing, they won't have
      an industry and, in the long term, it's more important to build up an
      industry," Simeoni explained.

      Back in Maputo, 24-year-old Pedro Samuel is selling secondhand T-shirts
      from a two by one metre space at Xipamanine Market. He estimates there
      are 1 000 vendors selling used clothing at this market alone.

      "At the moment, this is the only job I can do," Samuel said, explaining
      that he started helping his father sell used clothing when he was aged
      just 11. "People buy from me because they can't afford to buy new," he
      shrugged. -- Irin
    • 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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