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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi: ARV Delays Could Derail National Rollout Plan UN Integrated Regional Information Networks May 24, 2005 Posted to the web May 24, 2005 Johannesburg A
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 25, 2005
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      Malawi: ARV Delays Could Derail National Rollout Plan

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 24, 2005
      Posted to the web May 24, 2005


      A year after the Malawian government launched its HIV/AIDS treatment programme, the numbers of people awaiting treatment are stretching hospitals to their limits.

      In May 2004 the government began providing free antiretroviral (ARV) medication at public health facilities, hoping to reach 44,000 people living with the virus by June 2005.

      But the country's rollout has been plagued by delays of "up to eight months" in supplying the drugs, which had led to people in urgent need of treatment being forced to wait before accessing the life-prolonging medication, said Victor Kamanga, programme manager of the Malawi Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (MANET+).

      Kamanga became sick in November last year. With a CD4 count of 135, he was told he would need to start taking ARVs.

      "But when I went to the [state] clinic in December to try and get them, they said I must go on the waiting list, which was six months long," he told IRIN.

      "A private doctor advised me to buy them because I was in quite a bad way. Now I'm back at work and can go on ... but those that cannot afford to buy them could be in deep trouble," he remarked.

      According to Dr Tiwonge Loga, executive director of the National Association of People with HIV/AIDS in Malawi (NAPHAM), turning to private doctors to access ARVs was "not an option for 90 percent of Malawians", as it was "extremely expensive".

      ARV shortages in the public health system meant people who had reached the stage of AIDS were told to "go home and wait", she noted.

      Even hospitals that were ready to roll out the medication "were sitting and waiting for ARVs", Loga added.

      "We recently attended meetings in the Northern region and heard that St John's Mission hospital, which was supposed to be dispensing ARVs in June last year, has still not started doing so. They keep being told the drugs will come; the drugs will come," Kamanga commented.

      Loga cautioned that if the procurement system did not improve, the problem of drug shortages and delays in a country with an HIV prevalence rate of 14 percent and 150,000 people in need of treatment, would not be solved.

      Admitting that the government had "expected the drugs to come in earlier", the health ministry's HIV/AIDS coordinator, Dr Erik Schouten, noted that the supply of ARVs was "a complex issue".

      He pointed out that only a few sites had waiting lists, and these would be shortened as more areas began receiving their consignments of drugs by the end of May.

      Malawi is purchasing ARVs with a US $20 million grant from the Global Fund to fight TB, Malaria and HIV/AIDS, which stipulates that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) should be used to procure the medication.

      UNICEF'S procurement role was due to capacity constraints within Malawi, Schouten said. "These are large amounts of money, and it's a large volume of drugs."

      But it would be "completely unjustified" to point fingers and identify a single cause for the delays, as "many stakeholders were involved", he stressed.

      Nevertheless, "we are getting a large consignment of drugs this month [May]" and all 59 treatment sites should begin providing ARVs from June onwards, he told IRIN.

      About 19,000 people are accessing the medication through the public sector as well as treatment initiatives run by aid agencies like Medecines Sans Frontieres.

      In terms of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) 'three by five' plan to provide treatment to three million people in the developing world by the end of 2005, Malawi should have 80,000 people on ARV therapy by the end of 2005.

      Schouten acknowledged that this was "not going to happen", partly because the medication had arrived later than planned, but also as a result of crippling staff shortages in the health sector.


      Malawi Shuts Commercial Bank Over Forex Rules Breach

      Business in Africa (Rivonia)

      May 19, 2005
      Posted to the web May 23, 2005


      The Malawi Central Bank has closed down one of the country's commercial banks for allegedly flouting foreign exchange rules. The closure of the bank came amid reports that Malawi had run low on foreign currency due partly to illegal externalisation. Armed para-military police sealed off Finance Bank's branches across the country, preventing workers from entering their offices, while anxious customers waited outside contemplating the fate of their deposits.


      GAPWUZ Ordered Off Wa Mutharika's Farm

      Zimbabwe Standard (Harare)

      May 22, 2005
      Posted to the web May 24, 2005

      Foster Dongozi

      THE government has ordered officials from the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) to leave a Kadoma farm owned by Malawian President, Bingu wa Mutharika where they were representing farm workers in their dispute over wages, The Standard can reveal.

      Wa Mutharika's Bineth Farm is located some 20 km outside Kadoma along the Sanyati - Gokwe Road.

      The farm workers' union was threatened with arrest if they continued to visit Bineth Farm to assess their union members' working conditions and grievances.

      The GAPWUZ national organising secretary, Justin Wachi, told The Standard that the incident happened recently at the GAPWUZ offices in Milton Park in Harare.

      "A person who claimed to be a government official who was in the company of the manager at Bineth Farm approached me and warned us against intervening on behalf of farm workers at the Malawian President's farm," Wachi said.

      He said the person who claimed to be a government official said the Malawian President's farm should remain off limits for GAPWUZ and that officials who violated the order would be arrested.

      Workers at the farm have complained about poor wages, housing and lighting.

      Wachi said he now lived in fear following the threats.

      "I am now afraid. How can I not be afraid when an official claiming to be from the government threatens me with arrest?

      "However, we will continue to represent our members in their fight for better working conditions," he said.

      The move was immediately attacked by the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, (ZCTU) Wellington Chibebe, who described the action as 'ludicrous'.

      "It is shocking that the government can come up with that position. The impression being created is that Bingu wa Mutharika is a first class citizen ahead of other Zimbabweans. A worker is a worker whether he works for President Robert Mugabe or President Wa Mutharika."

      He said the Labour Act did not exempt the Malawian President from treating his workers like other human beings.

      Chibebe said the ZCTU was waiting for a formal approach from GAPWUZ before making its next move.

      The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Nicholas Goche, was not immediately available for comment.

      The Malawian president is reported to have acquired the farm in 1994 after marrying a Zimbabwean woman, identified only as Ethel.

      Wa Mutharika has a small vegetable patch, a small beef and dairy herd and several goats.

      Among the workers' major complaints are the dilapidated pole and mud huts, and late payment of wages.


      Zimbabwe police target minibuses

      Zimbabwe police have been targeting minibus taxi drivers as they continue a crackdown on the large informal sector.
      Eyewitnesses described about 100 minibuses being driven in convoy under police escort in the capital, Harare.

      Police are manning roadblocks and searching cars in the city. Almost 10,000 people have been arrested since the police action began last week.

      Minibuses were also stopped in Bulawayo, and street traders' stalls have been destroyed in both cities.

      Black market

      Some stallholders were fined for operating without licences or possessing what the police said were scarce staple items, like maizemeal and sugar intended for resale. The black market has thrived in Zimbabwe amid 80% unemployment.

      In Bulawayo, most foreign businessmen had closed their premises by early Tuesday afternoon, amid suspicion that they were being targeted on account of alleged foreign currency dealing.

      The action against the minibus drivers was interpreted as a move to keep commuters out of the cities, following protests in Harare at the weekend. The drivers are also suspected of dealing in petrol on the black market.

      "Police will leave no stone unturned in their endeavour to flush out economic saboteurs," Police Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka told the state media.


      The country faces shortages of many basics like petrol, maize and toothpaste, and the head of the UN's emergency relief agency is visiting this week to discuss importing food aid.

      The police chief said informal business operators had been arrested and fined for operating without licences or possessing scarce staple items such as maize meal, sugar and petrol intended for resale on the black market.

      But many of the flea market traders selling second-hand goods have been licensed.

      Police have destroyed 34 flea markets and netted some Z$900m ($100,000) in fines and seized some Z$2.2bn of goods.

      Weekend clash

      Harare residents are said to be furious at the police operation codenamed "restore order".

      Angry demonstrators clashed with police at the weekend in what AP news agency described as the most serious unrest seen since the ruling party won March parliamentary elections.

      In recent days only a few government buses have been running, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.

      Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said President Robert Mugabe was seeking an excuse to impose a State of Emergency and had ordered the crackdown to stop second-hand dealers undercutting cheap imports from China.

      The Zimbabwean dollar was devalued by 45% last week.


      Mozambique gripped by drought


      25 May 2005 11:58

      More than one million Mozambicans are reeling from a drought that has hit the south of the country and only little more than a tenth are getting food aid, an official said late on Tuesday.

      "The drought is now affecting more than one million people in the south of the country," Silvano Langa, head of the National Disaster Management Institute, said at a meeting with officials from the United Nations World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

      "Only 150 000 people have got food assistance in June," Langa said, adding that the "target is being revised" for the affected population in the regions of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane.

      Langa said he hoped the shortage would not be as "acute as in past years when we had to ward off the combined effects of drought and war".

      He said he was not launching an "urgent international appeal" for help, but was counting more on "bilateral aid".

      A former Portuguese colony, Mozambique gained independence on June 25, 1975, only to plunge into war a year later that was to last until 1992, claiming up to one million lives.

      More than half of the population of 17-million lives on less than a US dollar a day. - Sapa-AFP


      NYT story on widow cleansing in Malawi


      Chief of Zim secret police to oversee land reform

      Michael Hartnack | Harare, Zimbabwe

      13 May 2005 12:37

      President Robert Mugabe has appointed Didymus Mutasa, the head of the country's secret police, to oversee Zimbabwe's controversial land-redistribution programme, the government said on Friday.

      State radio said Mutasa, head of the Central Intelligence Organisation, will have authority over Flora Buka, who last month was named minister of state for special affairs for lands and resettlement. The land-redistribution programme has been dogged by allegations of favouritism and corruption, with ruling Zanu-PF party moguls obtaining more than one farm.

      Alleged scandals have caused deep divisions in a ruling party already riven by factions supporting different candidates to succeed Mugabe (81), who has indicated he will retire at the end of his current term in 2008.

      Misheck Sibanda, chief secretary to Mugabe's Cabinet, told state radio that the adjustment of Cabinet responsibilities means Mutasa will work closely with the Presidency in overseeing all matters relating to the acquisition, distribution and settlement of land under the programme.

      He said Buka's role will stress field-based monitoring of land-reform-related settlement.

      The plan aims to resettle 240 000 families on formerly white-owned land, covering 17% of the country. Many of the farms have become derelict because owners failed to take up holdings they were allocated.

      Zimbabwe's agricultural production has crashed, leading to food shortages and falling exports of cash crops such as tobacco.

      Current United Nations estimates suggest 5,5-million people may need food relief to survive until the next harvests in 2006, despite Mugabe's predictions of "bumper harvests".

      Mugabe last year appointed a commission chaired by former Cabinet secretary Charles Utete that "expressed concern over multiple farm ownership".

      Mutasa (70) was appointed to conduct a shake-up in the Central Intelligence Organisation, Zimbabwe's secret police, after five leading ruling-party members were detained on allegations of spying for the South African government.

      Mutasa's new post will give him control of Mugabe's sole remaining source of patronage in a foundering national economy.

      Given responsibility in the 1980s for overseeing Mugabe's abortive plans to introduce a one party state, Mutasa is a veteran Mugabe loyalist from the eastern Manicaland area. -- Sapa-AP
    • 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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