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  • Christine Chumbler
    Further Debt Relief Depends On Corruption Action SouthScan (London) April 22, 2005 Posted to the web May 2, 2005 Malawi is unlikely to secure further debt
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 3, 2005
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      Further Debt Relief Depends On Corruption Action

      SouthScan (London)

      April 22, 2005
      Posted to the web May 2, 2005

      Malawi is unlikely to secure further debt relief until its director of public prosecutions, Ismail Wadi concludes corruption cases and bring the culprits to book.

      British High Commissioner to Malawi David Peary said this month that the zero-tolerance for corruption policy was commendable policy, but his country needed to see more action and focus. Britain is the country's major donor.

      So far landmark cases have seen senior politicians arrested but the cases have stalled with the accused out on bail. The aggressive fight against corruption has been President Bingu wa Mutharika's most important political move in his 11 months rule and has helped him win respect from pre-election critics, observed Peary.

      Civil and church organisations are clamouring for the immediate arrest of ex-president Bakili Muluzi, who they claim may be stacking his plundered fortune in banks abroad. Political analysts, however, fear this could generate anarchy.

      The so-called zero tolerance policy has led to the arrest of senior officials of the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), the party that sponsored Mutharika to power.

      Former finance minister Friday Jumbe, former chief executive for parastatal Shire Bus Lines Humphrey Mvula, and UDF southern region governor John Chikakwiya were some of the UDF officials arrested on fraud, corruption and theft-related charges.

      Government says fiscal discipline holds the key to the country having its outstanding external debt of U$3 billion written off by the IMF and World Bank.

      Treasury secretary, Milton Kutengule said, "Malawi will use democratisation and fiscal prudence as its main bargaining tool for debt cancellation to win the multilateral donors," adding that, "Observance of clear economic policies and framework, good management of the budget and corrupt free society are other key factors to success."

      Britain says it will give Malawi 60 million pounds grant for the 2004/05 budget but has asked government to show more action in its anti-corruption drive.

      Britain is pleased overall with Malawi's macroeconomic economic management.

      Of its £60 million grant £20m is budgetary support while the rest will support programmes in health, education, security and other sectors.

      Britain's Department for International Development (DFID), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Malawi government funded the Kw250 million rehabilitation of bridges swept away by floods and the Central East Africa Railways, the route to Indian Ocean through Nacala.


      Drought Hits Maize Production

      SouthScan (London)

      April 22, 2005
      Posted to the web May 2, 2005

      Malawi's maize production has declined by 24 percent this year due to a dry spell.

      Maize production is estimated at 1.3 million tonnes, a decrease of 24 percent, the agriculture ministry said in a statement.

      Its final crop assessment had shown a "significant reduction in the production of maize," and that Malawi, badly affected by a dry spell, would need 2.1 million tonnes of maize to stave off famine.

      Malawi has on average an annual production of two million tons of maize, the national staple food, enough to feed its 11 million people.

      The ministry said it had set up a committee to assess the impact of the drought on the population and to identify people who will need food aid.

      Malawi had not by mid month made any international appeal for food aid.


      Zim to force professionals into govt service


      02 May 2005 11:17

      advertisementThe Zimbabwe government, keen to stem the flight of professionals from the economically-ravaged country, will force some graduates to work in government service, it was reported on Sunday.

      Many professionals will be bonded to government institutions after they graduate in a bid to stop them leaving for better-paid jobs outside Zimbabwe, the state-controlled Sunday Mail reported.

      "The government will soon compel professionals trained using state resources in universities, polytechnics and colleges to work in the civil service for some time before they can be allowed to join the private sector or legally work in other countries," the paper said.

      Likely to be affected are workers in the health sector, lawyers, engineers and technicians, where labour shortages are highest.

      Washington Mbizvo, an official in the country's ministry of higher education, said the recommendations have been forwarded to President Robert Mugabe, the Sunday Mail reported.

      "The whole exercise involved nine ministries which came up with the recommendations and the document has already been submitted to the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet," he said.

      So many doctors have left Zimbabwe in recent years that now one doctor has to do the work of seven, the local Daily Mirror recently reported.

      Zimbabwe has had to resort to hiring expatriate doctors from Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

      The once-prosperous southern African country has been in the grip of a severe economic crisis for the past five years. - Sapa-dpa


      Can Zimbabwe get any worse?


      30 April 2005 08:58

      Petrol queues stretched more than two miles through Harare yesterday as President Robert Mugabe's government effectively admitted that Zimbabwe faced shortages of vital supplies including its staple food, maize.

      Frustrated motorists lined up for dwindling fuel supplies after weeks in which hundreds of thousands of households have been without running water and neighbourhoods have been blacked out by power cuts.

      Yesterday it was announced that 1,2-million tonnes of maize was being bought from abroad to bolster supplies.

      But it was not clear how the government would pay for this as Zimbabwe has a dire shortage of the foreign currency needed to import goods.

      The government is also short of the money to buy the imported chemicals needed to treat water, as well as numerous other necessities.

      "So many things are going wrong at the same time that people are getting into a panic," said a Harare factory worker, who did not want to be named.

      "No fuel, no food to eat. Next we won't have enough air to breathe," she said. "We all know the Mugabe government held things together until the elections and now they are just letting things collapse."

      Mike Davies, the chairperson of the Harare Ratepayers' Association, agreed. "The city is crumbling," he said. "Water and power cuts are widespread. The people who have run the city for 25 years have failed us."

      The food and fuel shortages are even worse in the southern city of Bulawayo, according to residents.

      Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy used to produce enough food to feed the population. Plenty of high-grade tobacco once earned enough foreign exchange for the country's import needs.

      But Mugabe has now acknowledged that the chaos stemming from his seizures of white-owned farms has left less than half the country's farmland under cultivation.

      A season of marginal rains has brought a devastating crop failure. Aid agencies say about 4 million people -- a third of the population -- will need food aid this year.

      "We have put in place a package where we are going to have over 1,2-million tonnes coming into the country over the next few months," said Samuel Muvuti, the chief executive of the state grain marketing board.

      The announcement contradicts the government's earlier claims of a bumper harvest.

      The tobacco crop is 70% smaller than it was in 2000 when the government's "fast-track" seizures of 5 000 farms began. The quality of the tobacco is reported to have declined, and international buyers are offering lower prices.

      The critical shortage of hard cash was evident at the state's weekly auction of foreign currency, where only US$11-million was available -- when fuel importers alone needed $230-million.

      Anthony Hawkins, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe business school, told the Guardian he was surprised by the speed at which things had fallen apart after last month's parliamentary elections, in which Mugabe's Zanu-PF party retained power.

      "The shortages are a result of the government's lack of foreign exchange," he said. "It's amazing how quickly this collapse occurred. They managed to patch things up until the elections, but the day after voting the shortages appeared.

      "It is obviously very serious. I don't see any easy way out."

      International economists say the Mugabe government has exacerbated its economic problems by keeping the Zimbabwean dollar artificially high. Yesterday the exchange rate put the Zimbabwean currency at 6 114 to one US dollar. But on the thriving black market the rate was nearly three times higher, at 17 000 to one.

      Economists say the unrealistic exchange rate hurts exporters such as gold mines and manufacturing.

      But despite the dire shortage of foreign exchange, the government struck a deal this month to buy Chinese jet fighters. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005


      Zimbabwe: Less press, little freedom

      Sekai Ngara | Harare

      03 May 2005 07:17

      advertisementLittle has changed one year after Zimbabwe earned itself a place on a list of the world's worst places to be a journalist, published by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

      Another of the country's few independent publications, The Weekly Times, was forced to close shop earlier this year, after having its licence withdrawn by the state-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC).

      Under Zimbabwe's 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), journalists and publishing houses must apply to the MIC for a licence to operate.

      News organisations are not allowed to employ journalists who have failed to register with the commission. Those reporters who are caught practising without MIC's blessing face imprisonment of up to two years.

      The Weekly Times followed in the footsteps of Zimbabwe's sole privately-owned daily, The Daily News, that was banned in 2003 along with its sister paper, The Daily News on Sunday.

      Another independent weekly, The Tribune, also had its licence withdrawn in 2004.

      Licences for journalists have to be renewed every twelve months, while those for publishing houses are good for two years.

      "The fear that one's licence may not be renewed if he or she writes something the government may not like has introduced a certain element of self-censorship," says Foster Dongozi, Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and a senior reporter for The Standard, an independent weekly.

      Dongozi describes the MIC's requests for information as intrusive.

      "Beside... your educational qualifications, you also need to give details such as your place of residence, your private phone numbers, e-mail address, passport details and the details of your spouse, where she works etc."

      This has fuelled fears, he adds, that the MIC is little more than an intelligence-gathering body set up by a state sensitive to the numerous allegations of poor governance and human rights abuse that have been made against it.

      Those who have the appropriate documents in hand are said to face hostility from government officials and members of the ruling Zanu-PF party, with certain of its officials accusing reporters of gathering information for the opposition.

      "Reporters have been harassed [at] ruling party events," says Dongozi, who claims that the main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, has also been known to look askance at journalists from the state-owned media.

      The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill makes it an offence to communicate information that proves to be false, and which may promote "public disorder or public violence" in Zimbabwe.

      The law places reporters who are unable to substantiate facts with recalcitrant government officials in the position of having to hold-off on publishing important stories indefinitely, lest the items prove inaccurate.

      Anyone falling foul of the Criminal Law Bill is liable for a heavy fine or imprisonment of up to twenty years or both. Another clause in the Bill criminalises "abusive and indecent" statements about the presidency.

      The country's new minister of information, Tichaona Jokonya, has voiced a desire to improve relations between government and the independent media.

      Jokonya replaced Jonathan Moyo, widely believed to have been AIPPA's architect, after he was booted out of Zanu-PF for defying a party directive and standing as an independent candidate in the March 31 parliamentary elections.

      At a recent meeting of editors from the private and state media, Jokonya invited journalists to come up with ways in which AIPPA could be amended to make the act more palatable.

      Vincent Kahiya, editor of the weekly The Independent", who attended the meeting, said: "What remains to be seen is whether the system will allow him to carry out his agenda. It can very well be diplomatic posturing."

      He added that the media should make use of what he described as a "window of uncertainty" to engage the new information minister.

      Crucially, Jokonya has said he believes AIPPA should stay on the books, albeit with possible amendments.

      The ultimate arbiter of any possible change to the Act, President Robert Mugabe, still appears supportive of the law.

      In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation after his party won the parliamentary election, Mugabe described AIPPA as "a good law", and said it would stay.

      As the international community marks World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, such words are unlikely to inspire confidence amongst reporters in Zimbabwe. - Sapa-IPS
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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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.


        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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