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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi: IMF Approves More Than $55 Million for Poverty Programmes UN Integrated Regional Information Networks August 8, 2005 Posted to the web August 8, 2005
    Message 1 of 1046 , Aug 11 5:53 AM
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      Malawi: IMF Approves More Than $55 Million for Poverty Programmes

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      August 8, 2005
      Posted to the web August 8, 2005

      Johannesburg

      The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved another three-year flow of funds to Malawi after improved economic performance.

      Under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) the IMF board on Friday gave the nod to about US $55.9 million to support the government's economic reform and poverty alleviation programmes. The PRGF is the IMF's concessional loan facility for low-income countries.


      "After several years of economic deterioration, significant progress has been made in restoring macroeconomic stability, strengthening economic growth and stabilising the government's domestic debt," noted Takatoshi Kato, IMF's deputy managing director and acting chairman.

      Up to 80 percent of Malawi's development budget is provided by donors, and the country faces enormous challenges related to poverty, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and the capacity to deliver services.

      Two-thirds of Malawians live in poverty. Although the economy improved last year, this year's prospects have been affected by a dry spell that has cut maize production by an estimated 25 percent.

      "In the light of the recent drought conditions, food security is an overarching priority of the government", commented Kato.

      According to the IMF, food prices are expected to rise later in the year, while depreciation of the Malawian kwacha against the US dollar - from MK109 in February to MK124 in July - was expected to affect non-food prices.

      The first disbursement under the PRGF arrangement will amount to about $7.9 million. The previous PRGF arrangement for Malawi expired in December 2004.

      *****

      DPP Wrangle Costs Gwanda

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 11, 2005
      Posted to the web August 11, 2005

      Gregory Gondwe
      Lilongwe

      The power wrangle that is reportedly going on in State President Bingu wa Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has found one casualty in Gwanda Chakuamba who has been demoted from Ministry of Agriculture to Irrigation and Water Development.

      Highly placed sources close to the presidency has told The Chronicle that Chakuamba who is Vice-President to Mutharika in the DPP has been removed to show Chakuamba who ditched his Republican Party(RP) to join the DPP ranks the who the "Boss" is.


      However, Chakuamba's only consolation is that he benefited by acquiring with the BMW X5 vehicle which the Agriculture Ministry bought for the new incoming minister.

      The vehicle caused uproar both in parliament and general public when the ministry coughed up between K15 and K20 million to purchase it.

      One of the daily newspapers reported this week that Members of Parliament (MPs) of the RP who joined the DPP together with supporters have expressed dissatisfaction over the removal of Chakuamba.

      The MPs and the supporters observed that Chakuamba has been demoted, citing among other things the change of his official vehicle registration in agriculture which was MG3 to MG5 of the new ministry, intimating that the numbers are an indication of the cabinet hierarchy.

      However, Chakuamba's replacement Uladi Mussa has not been allocated the MG 3 vehicle which has instead gone to the Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe.

      But Information Minister Patricia Kaliati who is also a Director of Women Affairs in the DPP and Government Spokesperson dismissed the reports saying "Take it from me, there is no wrangle in DPP or in government whatsoever between the president and Honourable Chakuamba.

      It is not true."

      She said what is true is that the Mutharika is the DPP president and that his vice is Chakuamba insisting that the presence of the two in official meetings is an indication enough that there is no problem between the two.

      Asked why the official Agriculture Minister BMW vehicle is still being used by Chakuamba, Kaliati at first said the vehicle was bought for Chakuamba and so has to move with him to the other ministry.

      But when it was pointed out to her that the vehicle was specifically bought for the Agriculture Minister of which Chakuamba was no longer, she changed her tune saying all ministers are still using their former official vehicles.

      "I am still using the vehicle I was using as Deputy Local Government Minister and so is Chakuamba who will still be using the vehicle until an appropriate one is allocated to him," she said adding "Chakuamba has in fact been promoted as he is now in charge of two ministries".

      Media reports have continuously reported that there are two factions in the DPP, one led by Chakuamba who intends to wrestle power from founder State President Bingu wa Mutharika.

      Ntaba trashed the reports as untrue last May saying those spreading such rumours are those who do not wish the DPP well.

      "Without fear of contradiction, I want to say that the DPP as a party is intact. I belong to a united party and if we had cracks I would have been the first to tell you. I am official Spokesperson Ntaba Sources in the DPP told The Chronicle that the Mutharika faction comprises of DPP gurus from the North and Central regions while the Chakuamba faction is made up of Southerners.

      *****

      Lilongwe Deceased Offices Accused of Rampant Corruption

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 11, 2005
      Posted to the web August 11, 2005

      Chikondi Chiyembekeza
      Lilongwe

      Officials from the Lilongwe District Commissioner's (DCs) deceased office, have been accused of withdrawing deceased person's money and banking the amount with some other banks in order to accumulates interest for themselves.

      This, according to sources is depriving the owner's access to the money and in some cases it is taking years for beneficiaries to receive the money. "I suspect that they withdraw the money and put it somewhere because when you go there to enquire about the money, your are moved from one office to another but to no avail and eventually told to come next time," said one victim.


      Some sources have also told The Chronicle that the issue is not only isolated to Lilongwe, but to other districts as well.

      However, there is a case of one Sangalalani Chinkhunda whose father died in 1999 and left behind six children after having worked with the Ministry of Education for more than twenty years.

      He says since then he has not accessed the money that their father left behind for them.

      Chinkhunda complains that their money was banked at Malawi Savings Bank (MSB) by officials from the deceased office without their knowledge and since then they have not been in a position to access their father's money.

      He says by now the money might have accumulated a lot of interest close to a million kwacha.

      In a letter dated 19 October, 2004 from Chinkhunda to the DC in Lilongwe, he indicates that he has failed to "trace and obtain" the passbooks for his six brothers and sisters. "I have been visiting the so called deceased office (Room one) since April 2004 in search for the Minors Passbooks," he said.

      He then added: "I have been in touch with your staff members of room one who recently declared after six months search of the Passbooks that they can no longer be traced. It is therefore my last hope and representation to you Sir for your consideration and assistance." However, in a response dated 20 December 2004, reference number LDA/30/6B/11 from the District Commissioner's office in Lilongwe signed by L.P. Singa, Chinkhunda was advised that the passbooks for the six beneficiaries are with the Malawi Savings Bank, Lilongwe Branch. "As you may be aware, the passbooks are still at Malawi Savings Bank, Lilongwe Branch for interest," said the response adding: "You will be advised accordingly once they are in."

      Seeing that much time had elapsed, Chinkhunda thereafter wrote the General Manager of Malawi Savings Bank dated 26 December 2004, notifying them that he has been told by the DC's office that their passbooks are with the bank for interests.

      "I wonder for how long and until when because the last time we used the Books was in the year 1999 and since then our privilege of saving with your Banks has been undermined with serious negligence otherwise interests are yearly and our purpose for saving was to cater for school fess which has now been obstructed by the delay," he complained.

      But to his surprise he was told that the Bank does not have their Passbooks.

      Chinkhunda says he suspects officials from the deceased office have withdrawn the money from the Bank and bank it at some other bank for interest.

      Official from the deceased office in Lilongwe refused to comment when the matter was put to them.

      The DC for Lilongwe was not available for comment as he was reported to be out of the office when attempts to solicit his comment were made.

      However, the Operations Manager of MSB (Lilongwe Branch) could commit himself to The Chronicle on whether the Chinkhunda's accounts are still with the Bank.

      "That is a confidential matter between the Bank and the client, so I cannot divulge information on that one," he said and added that they are entitled to protect their customers confidentiality by not giving out banking information without his or her consent.

      Sangalalani Chinkhunda, in separate interview on Tuesday still insists that they cannot trace their accounts with the Bank and this is adding on to the suffering they have endured for close to five years now.

      *****

      Nice Opens Rural Library in Dedza

      The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)

      August 11, 2005
      Posted to the web August 11, 2005

      Levison Mwase
      Lilongwe

      Member of Parliament for Dedza North, Alexander Jumbe (MCP) has hailed the National Initiative for Civic Education (NI CE) for opening a rural library in his Dedza North constituency.

      NICE launched the library in Village Headman Chatendauka at Mayani on Tuesday.


      Assistant District Civic Education Officer for NICE in Dedza, Peter Soko said the library will also act as an adult literacy unit for people around Mayani.

      He said the resource centre was part of a NICE programme which started in January this year with the aim of establishing rural libraries in many parts of the country. "The libraries and adult literacy units are community driven. As for this resource centre it was the Village Headman himself who requested our office to assist them establish it after noting the high levels of illiteracy in the area," said Soko.

      He said the library would have books such as the English and Chichewa versions of the Malawi Constitution and newspapers, as well as books on democracy, adult literacy, reproductive health, Gender, Environment, food security, HIV/AIDS and family planning.

      Soko said a teacher to teach adult literacy has been identified and by the Ministry of Gender and Community Services and would be paid a salary.

      Speaking in a separate interview, MP for the area Jumbe said he welcomes the resource centre saying it will go a long way in reducing illiteracy in the constituency.

      The MP said illiteracy is very high in areas around Mayani because previously parents did not send their children to school because of cultural beliefs. "Dedza North is largely a Yao dominated area. In the past parents did not send their children to school for fear that they would be turned into Christians. The adult literacy unit will, therefore, accord those who failed to go to school the chance to at least learn how to read and write," said Jumbe.

      The MP requested NICE to spread the initiative to other areas in Dedza.

      Speaking earlier, Village Headman Chatendauka said the other reason why illiteracy is high in his area is because in the past most parents preferred to sent their children to work on tobacco farms in Kasungu and Ntchisi.

      The Headman said he was optimistic the resource centre would encourage parents to send their children to school and promote a reading culture. "This library would also help my subjects better understand the Constitution and the principles of democracy," he said.

      Some of the would be beneficiaries of the library, Chrisezia Banda and Francis Chilenga said adult literacy would promote privacy as people would no longer seek third parties to read or write them letters.

      The opening of the resource centre brings to 5 libraries that NICE has opened in Dedza alone since January.

      NICE is a joint project between the Malawi government and the European Union and started in 1999.


      *****

      Envoy named for Zimbabwean talks

      Former Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano has been appointed to try and set up talks between the Zimbabwe government and opposition.
      He was named by the African Union just days after President Robert Mugabe appeared to rule out such talks.

      South Africa - and other countries - hope dialogue could ease Zimbabwe's economic and political problems.

      Meanwhile, Mr Mugabe has said he will give farmland to up to 6,000 members of the armed forces.

      This is the latest stage in his controversial land reform programme, which has seen some 4,000 white farmers driven from their land.

      On Monday, Mr Mugabe said the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were British "stooges", so it was only worth talking to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

      "We tell all those calling for such ill-conceived talks to please stop misdirecting their efforts," he said.

      Emergency loan

      Mr Chissano is one of the few African leaders to have stepped down voluntarily.

      He gave up power earlier this year after not contesting 2004 polls because he had already served the constitutional limit of two terms in office.

      South Africa is considering giving an emergency loan to Zimbabwe, so it can repay its debts to the International Monetary Fund and avoid expulsion.

      Correspondents say President Thabo Mbeki might make any assistance conditional on Mr Mugabe agreeing to hold talks with the MDC.

      Houses for soldiers

      In his speech to mark Defence Forces Day, Mr Mugabe also confirmed that some soldiers had already been given land, although he did not say how many.

      His critics have accused Mr Mugabe's government of giving land to its supporters to ensure their loyalty.

      "I understand that close to 6,000 members of the defence forces are still to benefit," Mr Mugabe said in a speech.

      "The responsible authorities are looking into the matter with a view to allocating land to these remaining deserving cadres," he said.

      Donors say the land reform programme has devastated Zimbabwe's economy, leading to shortages of food, fuel, foreign currency and rampant inflation and unemployment.

      Mr Mugabe says land reform is needed to reverse colonial-era policies, under which black people were not allowed to own the most fertile land.

      He also said that some 600 soldiers would benefit from new houses to be built to replace those demolished in recent weeks under Operation Drive Out Rubbish.

      This move to knock down illegally-built houses and market kiosks has left some 700,000 people homeless or jobless, the United Nations says.

      It has been strongly condemned by the UN, donor countries and the opposition.
    • 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.

        Crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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