Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.


Expand Messages
  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi: World Bank Approves US $37m Loan to Revamp Irrigation Systems UN Integrated Regional Information Networks May 27, 2005 Posted to the web May 27, 2005
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 31, 2005
      Malawi: World Bank Approves US $37m Loan to Revamp Irrigation Systems

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 27, 2005
      Posted to the web May 27, 2005


      Malawi's ageing irrigation schemes will be getting a revamp following the approval of a US $37 million World Bank loan, a senior official confirmed on Friday.

      Director of Irrigation Sandram Muweru told IRIN the funds would go towards rehabilitating and establishing new irrigation sites in 11 districts across the country.

      "Work has already been undertaken on restoring four schemes in certain parts of the country - most of these were established in the 60s and 70s and are overdue for repair," Muweru said.

      Districts earmarked for new irrigation sites include Blantyre, Zomba, Chikwawa and Nsanje in Southern Province; Dedza in Central Province; and Rumphi and Chitipa in Northern Province. Some of the money will also be spent on encouraging local communities to adopt new farming techniques and raising awareness of the benefits of crop diversification.

      Muweru said the government hoped the improved irrigation systems would boost smallholder crop production.

      "So far, we have been very unlucky with the weather - we have had poor harvests for nearly three years, and this is because we are dependent on rains. While the [government-sponsored] seeds to the rural poor does help, intensive irrigating is probably the only lasting way to ensure adequate crop production," he told IRIN.

      Almost 500,000 mt of food will be required to assist up to two million Malawians facing food shortages this year.


      Malawi: Top UN Officials See for Themselves

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      May 27, 2005
      Posted to the web May 27, 2005


      The remote village of Malemia, in drought-stricken southern Malawi, had never seen anything quite like it as a convoy of vehicles, accompanied by a police escort with sirens wailing, arrived in a cloud of dust.

      Although fairly large, Malemia, about 100 km from Malawi's main commercial capital of Blantryre, does not get many visitors. On Thursday, however, it played host to James Morris, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, and the newly appointed UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Ann Veneman.

      They had come to see the work of the 'Village to Village AIDS Community Better Life Organisation' - which targets orphans, vulnerable children and people living with HIV/AIDS - and assess the impact of Malawi's looming food crisis.

      Part of the community-based initiative they visited was a child care centre, funded by UNICEF, which has 828 children aged under five on its books, and dishes out two meals a day of maize porridge, with groundnuts and bananas for added nutrition.

      "It is because of hunger that they are here. Their families cannot afford to feed them - the centre acts as their parents," said Chaliza Matola of the Association of Professional Playgroups in Malawi.

      "The situation here is serious - usually we grow our own crops to feed the children but now, with drought, we have nothing to give them, and our only hope lies in the donors and other well wishers," she said.

      Crop estimates indicate that Malawi's harvest could drop by around 25 percent this season, with the number of people in need of food aid climbing beyond last year's 1.3 million.

      The UN delegation met people living with AIDS, who, despite taking antiretroviral drugs administered through the community programme, told the UN officials they were hungry - and, indeed, they seemed frail. "It is important that you eat well - this will also help you live longer," Morris told them.

      Malawi has an HIV prevalence rate of 14.2 percent, and an estimated 900,000 people living with AIDS. Around 30,000 children have been orphaned by the epidemic.

      The special envoy's visit was the fifth to the region, aimed at drawing attention to the "triple threat" of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakened government capacity that has affected Southern Africa since 2001.

      Morris and Veneman arrived in Malawi from Zambia, and will go on to Botswana and Zimbabwe, which are struggling with food insecurity and some of the highest adult prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in the world.

      After touring the care centre, the UN team left for a World Food Programme distribution point about 25 minutes' drive away, along a dusty, unpaved road.

      There, scores of people were queueing for free food. Villager John Tebulo said the community had harvested "nothing because of the drought" - a catastrophic dry spell between mid-January and March that caught crops at a key growing stage.

      "I only hope that government is listening to our call for assistance. People here planted on time, but the maize withered before maturity," he told PlusNews as he stood in line.

      The Malawi government has set aside an undisclosed amount of money for maize purchases, and has requested financial assistance from the international community to help cover the food deficit, but has not yet issued a formal emergency appeal.

      "The problems that I have seen are enormous," Morris told reporters. "Children are without food, and HIV/AIDS is taking its toll."

      Although saddened by what he saw in Malawi, he was quick to point out that the situation was "similar in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland".

      "Southern Africa needs food diversification; there is also need to follow conservation practices and grow drought-resistant varieties."

      Veneman said she was impressed with the way communities were "working hard to assist each other in times of need".

      "Despite the little resources that these people have, we have seen that the desire to help the children, and those suffering from AIDS, is there," she commented. "UNICEF will support such initiatives by the communities."


      Countries Seek Regional Elephant Management Plan

      The Herald (Harare)

      May 26, 2005
      Posted to the web May 27, 2005

      Tsitsi Matope
      Victoria Falls

      DELEGATES from Southern African are attending a workshop to map out the Southern Africa Elephant Management strategy.

      The workshop would see the participants coming up with a plan of action on how effectively they could manage the region's ballooning elephant population. Countries attending include Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

      Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism Cde Andrew Langa, who officially opened the workshop, said a regional plan that included decision to cull the elephants was justified as the region was faced with a problem of over-abundance.

      "There are other areas where regional co-operation is needed like when presenting challenges to international conservation bodies such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), culling decisions, tourist promotion, international negotiations over the sale of elephant products and poaching across international boundaries," Cde Langa said.

      He said although a series of elephant management meetings have been held both regionally and at international level there is no one management option that has successfully dealt with the problem of elephants.

      "None of the meetings were able to come up with effective ways of dealing with the elephants and human conflict," Cde Langa said.

      He said the situation was a challenge to the Sadc region, which holds the key to a successful management strategy.

      Secretary for Environment and Tourism Ms Margaret Sangarwe said the controversy surrounding elephant statistics were unjustified on the part of Sadc countries and the communities.

      "Our communities live with the elephants and Sadc governments who have seen the magnitude of the problems have put in place census mechanisms to establish the number of elephants we have in the region.

      "We would not waste resources trying to deal with a non-existent problem," Ms Sangarwe said.

      Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director-general Dr Morris Mtsambiwa added that Zimbabwe which is over burdened by a huge population of nearly 100 000 elephants was confronted with limited options on how to manage Africa's largest land mammal's population.

      Some participants however indicated that relocation of elephants would only mean transferring a problem into a new place where in most cases would mean destruction for crops, killing of people and more damage in unprotected areas.

      Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources director Mr Charles Jonga said the region would welcome a management strategy that would permit culling of a certain number of elephants in the country and/or the Sadc region.

      "Re-allocation of the elephants would mean national parks would have very little to do with those that would have been bought.

      " I am convinced that we need a more practical strategy to be able to reduce its number into a more sustainable number," Mr Jonga said.

      Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have the highest elephant population of 123 000 and about 100 000 for the last two countries. Zambia has 24 000, South Africa (14 000) and Namibia (15 000) bringing the total regional population to nearly 400 000 while sustainable levels for the region stood at about 180 000.


      Zimbabwe: The burning continues

      Michael Hartnack | Harare, Zimbabwe

      30 May 2005 05:27

      Police in Zimbabwe continued demolishing thousands of shacks and vendors' kiosks in opposition strongholds on Monday, burning a 10km-long line of curio stalls along the road near Victoria Falls.

      A spokesperson for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called the crackdown a "tyranny" and urged people to resist.

      Lawyers for the party sought a court order on Monday that banned police from demolishing shacks and kiosks, and demanding compensation for the owners of buildings already destroyed in what the government calls a campaign to clean up the cities.

      Thousands of street traders have been arrested and their wares seized or destroyed since the May 19 start of the crackdown, which the government has described as an urban renewal campaign. Police using torches, sledgehammers and bulldozers have also burned and demolished the homes of the urban poor in informal settlements around the country.

      "A government that destroys the property of people who are trying to make an honest living is evil," MDC spokesperson Paul Themba-Nyathi said on Monday after a session of the main opposition party's national council.

      "We call on all Zimbabweans to mobilise against this assault on their dignity, livelihoods and well-being," said Themba-Nyathi, defying tough new security laws that provide a 20-year prison term for anyone trying to "coerce" President Robert Mugabe's government.

      "We shall overcome this tyranny," he said.

      Over the weekend, residents in some informal settlements put boulders across a maze of side roads in a futile attempt to keep police and security forces out. However, there were no reports of rioting in any of the townships where police demolished and burned shacks.

      In the resort town of Victoria Falls, police burned a 10km-long line of curio stalls and claimed to have confiscated a large amount of stolen or illegally imported goods.

      In the eastern city of Mutare, police said they arrested an American, identified as Howard Smith Gilman, under media laws for allegedly covering the destruction of 9 000 illegal structures there. Zimbabwe's media laws make it illegal to operate without a licence.

      MDC legislator Trudi Stevenson said in the preceding 24 hours, police had "at gunpoint" forced 2 000 more people in Hatcliffe township in northern Harare to destroy their houses and leave. On Friday and Saturday, 7 000 were evicted, although they had lease agreements issued by Mugabe's government.

      "The people are homeless and sleeping in the open," she said.

      Many were trying to salvage building materials in the hope they would be allocated other plots.

      Harare's government-appointed mayor Sekesai Makwavarara last week gave dwellers in the city's myriad backyard shacks until July to vacate, citing health grounds. About half the city's poor live in such shacks. The government has not explained why it began demolitions before the July deadline. -- Sapa-AP


      Zimbabwe set to nationalise land

      Zimbabwe is to proceed with plans to nationalise all farmland, a ruling party official has said.
      Zanu-PF spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira said the party would amend the constitution so as to abolish rights to private ownership of land.

      He said the move would end "ceaseless litigation" by white farmers whose property has been expropriated by decree over the past five years.

      Under the proposed new system, land would be leased for 99-year terms.

      The statement appeared in state media.

      "Through the amendments we are going to push for when parliament resumes sitting in June, all land will become state land, with farmers leasing it on a 99-year lease basis," Mr Shamuvarira said.

      "This will dispense with the ownership litigation process.

      "All the former farmers can do after these amendments would be to contest the amount of compensation."

      Zanu-PF has a large enough parliamentary majority to push through constitutional changes.

      However, some party officials who are themselves landowners are understood to be unhappy with the proposal.

      The move comes after some white farmers won court cases against the government after contesting the expropriation of their land.
    • 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

      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.