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  • Christine Chumbler
    Parliament blew millions by Gedion Munthali, 02 November 2005 - 06:06:04 The three-week sitting of the National Assembly that adjourned controversially on
    Message 1 of 1046 , Nov 2, 2005
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      Parliament blew millions
      by Gedion Munthali, 02 November 2005 - 06:06:04
      The three-week sitting of the National Assembly that adjourned controversially on Monday cost the taxpayers about K56 million, a development Malawi Economic Justice Network has described as a scandal given the non-pertinent issues discussed.
      Parliament's Principal Finance Officer Nelson Nankhumwa confirmed the expenditure yesterday. He was asked to confirm the figure which appeared in a statement Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) issued Tuesday morning.
      "That figure is correct," said Nankhumwa. "The money had been spent by Monday."
      MEJN said it issued the statement to take stock of the sitting, given that K56 million kwacha is a contribution all Malawians, rich or poor, paid through taxes, fees and other non-tax revenue.
      "It is a scandal and an act of grave injustice to spend such an amount of money and fail to agree on issues that are pertinent to the development of our country.
      "Such issues should have included the position of Malawi on the 6th World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference scheduled for December 2005 in Hong Kong.
      "The general public would also have been proud of our MPs if they made calls for debt cancellation whose prospects may be jeopardised by signs of political instability," said MEJN.
      It also observed that issues of economic growth, human capital development, social protection and the HIV and Aids pandemic are immediate priority areas of attention, not party politics.
      "The citizenry deserves the best out of any parliamentary sitting," reads the statement.
      Deputy leader of government business in the House Ken Lipenga said different agendas and priorities affected the sitting. This, he said, frustrated efforts to post achievements for the common good.
      "There were two agendas in the House. One was on the table, another was under the table. The one on the table were government bills which were for the common good. Money should have been spent on this.
      "Unfortunately, we were not able to push through this agenda because it was frustrated by the agenda under the table which had narrow goals for private good," said Lipenga.
      But UDF Chief Whip Leonard Mangulama said the sitting was worth it. He played down the money issue, saying in other countries parliaments meet almost around the year.
      "I think it was very worth it," said Mangulama, citing the approval of a $30 million World Bank grant for food, a resolution condemning government's handling of the hunger situation, and approval of impeachment procedures as some of the achievements.
      "We spent almost a week discussing hunger and this is what led to the State President declaring a state of national disaster. We also posed lots of questions to ministers on issues affecting our constituencies," said Mangulama.
      Institute for Policy Interaction Director Rafiq Hajat said he would not comment on whether on not the sitting was worth the money spent "because it is a difficult question."
      "What I would say though is that it was necessary to put in place impeachment procedures, but not now. More time should have been spent on them.
      "Bringing the motion to indict and impeach the President immediately after the approval of the procedures created suspicion, tension and disturbed some really good business through unnecessary adjournments," said Hajat.
      MCP officials could not be reached for comment.

      *****

      Mwawa's case fails
      by Zainah Liwanda, 02 November 2005 - 06:03:01
      Former Education Minister Yusuf Mwawa Tuesday failed to enter defence on four charges levelled against him by the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) because his lawyer Gift Nankhuni was reportedly sick.
      Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate Mzondi Mvula adjourned the case following a request from Felix Tambulasi of Legal Aid, on behalf of Nankhuni, to be given a week, saying he would be in a position to parade 10 witnesses in defence.
      Mvula in September asked Mwawa to defend himself on all the four charges of misuse of public office, theft by public servant, forgery and altering a false document.
      ACB director Gustave Kaliwo, while accepting the request, expressed concern that the case was taking long to conclude.
      Mvula then ruled that Mwawa will enter his defence starting Wednesday next week to Friday nonstop to ensure that all the witnesses give their evidence.
      In an interview after the adjournment, Tambulasi said Nankhuni was ready with the defence.
      "My humble duty was to ask for adjournment on behalf of Mr. Nankhuni. He is ready with the defence and definitely next week he will be able parade the witnesses," said Tambulasi.
      Mwawa is alleged to have used K160,550 to pay for his wedding reception using the Special Client Account from the Ministry of Education.

      *****

      Tembo wants his portrait on party cloth
      by George Ntonya, 02 November 2005 - 06:09:25
      MCP President John Tembo is planning to introduce party cloth with his portrait after construction of late Kamuzu Banda's mausoleum, he told a rally in Lilongwe on Sunday.
      Tembo, who took over the party's presidency from Gwanda Chakuamba about two and a half years ago, said he could not introduce the new cloth earlier because the party has been mourning Kamuzu for the past six years.
      Kamuzu Banda, who ruled Malawi between 1964 and 2004, handed over the MCP presidency to Gwanda Chakuamba in 1997 because of old age and died later the same year.
      Despite his death, the party's cloth has continued to bear Kamuzu's portrait and some members display their allegiance by wearing his badge.
      "How could I introduce a cloth with my face when we were mourning the Ngwazi? I could not do that," Tembo told tens of hundreds of people who attended the rally in Area 25.
      The government is building a multi-million Kwacha mausoleum a stone's throw from the Capital Hill as an honour to late Kamuzu, who is referred to as the 'Father and Founder of the Malawi nation.'
      Tembo said MCP would hold a special Chewa ritual at his grave when the mausoleum is completed to mark the end of the mourning period.
      "Let them do their part. We'll do ours after them," the leader of opposition said, adding that Kamuzu, like him, was a Chewa and deserved a special ritual by his kinsmen.
      Tembo, who accused UDF of rigging the 2004 general elections that could have seen MCP returning into government, did not say whether or not the new party cloth would bear two faces including that of late Kamuzu, whose spirit some people believe is still holding the party together.
      "It's a welcome development, but I'll be happy to see late Kamuzu's portrait maintained on the cloth so that we can have two faces," said MP for Lilongwe Msinja Lingson Belekanyama (MCP) who attended the rally.
      "If [Tembo] decides to have his portrait only I would still have no problem with that because we already have a lot of cloth with the Ngwazi's portrait," he said in an interview.
      Some MPs from the party refused to comment on the matter.
      Political analyst Mustaffa Hussein said in an interview there was nothing wrong with Tembo introducing his portrait on the party cloth.
      He said the phasing out of late Kamuzu Banda's portrait on the cloth would have very little negative impact because Tembo has gained a lot of respect as party president.
      "People will still respect and remember late Kamuzu Banda as Father and Founder of the Nation despite the bad treatment they experienced during his rule," Hussein said.
      Tembo, who has a large following in the Central Region, is MCP's likely presidential candidate for the 2009 general elections.

      *****

      Court clears Aford treasurer
      by Phaless Chisenga, 02 November 2005 - 06:12:56
      Mzuzu Magistrates' Court Tuesday acquitted Aford Treasurer General Nolia Chivundiko Gondwe who was answering charges of being found in possession with a vehicle stolen from South Africa.
      The vehicle, a Mitsubishi Colt registration number JKN 440, was seized from Gondwe in August this year during an exercise conducted by Interpol across the country.
      The case was adjourned last Wednesday because Gondwe's witness, Liston Mwala, was at large. He, however, presented himself to the court on Sunday after, according to him, learning of the court case through The Nation.
      During hearing before Chief Resident Magistrate Dingiswayo Madise, Mwala told the court that he was not the owner of the vehicle and that he only acted as a broker.
      "She [Gondwe] asked me to look for a car for her. And when I came across the said vehicle, I informed her. She liked it and I contacted the owner, James Phiri, after which the sale was concluded," said Mwala.
      In cross examination, Mwala said he was not aware that the vehicle had been stolen from South Africa and that the engine number had been tampered with.
      Passing judgment on Tuesday, Madise said the court found Gondwe not guilty of the offence and was therefore acquitted.
      "The accused did not see the so-called Phiri. It is Mwala that appears on the sale agreement as the seller of the vehicle. We find Gondwe to be innocent of this charge. Mwala is in a better position to explain how he came by the same," ruled Madise.
      The court ruled that Mwala should pay back the K750,000 Gondwe paid for the vehicle.
      "It is unfortunate that this syndicate has cost innocent Malawians a lot of money and it is important that new systems should be put in place to safeguard the interests of Malawians," said the magistrate.
      He, however, ruled that the vehicle could not be sent back to the owner, Gary Cox of South Africa, because his insurance company, Eagle Insurance, had already paid him for the vehicle.
      "In this regard, the court orders that the vehicle should [be] and is hereby forfeited to the Government of Malawi, unless Eagle Insurance of South Africa makes claim of ownership within six months," he said.

      *****

      Police arrest illegal power connectors
      by Tadala Makata Kakwesa, 02 November 2005 - 06:44:00
      Police in Lilongwe have arrested two people for illegally tapping electricity from Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi Limited (Escom) poles.
      Escom's Regional Manager (Centre) Macloud Mwanjasi described the development as the worst since the offenders were tapping electricity straight from the poles and buried the bare wires under the ground.
      Mwanjasi, while showing the video that was recorded during the raid in the presence of the police, said the exercise will go on.
      Escom officials informed the police after receiving a complaint from faults supervisors who inspected the place and discovered that about 15 houses were using power from the tapping.
      Two of the suspects, Mark Makolija and a Mr. D. Kamwana, both from Kawale Township, were arrested after admitting supplying and getting money from customers for the illegal connections.

      *****

      One million Mozambicans face famine

      Lisbon, Portugal

      02 November 2005 02:31

      About one million people in Mozambique are facing hunger because of an ongoing drought in the south-eastern African nation, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza said in an interview on Wednesday.

      "We have some one million Mozambicans who, at this moment, are undergoing the effects of a drought and who suffer because they don't know what they are going to eat tomorrow," he told Portuguese daily newspaper Diario de Noticias.

      Mozambique, along with most parts of Southern Africa, is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of drought.

      Guebuza, who began a three-day official visit to former ruler Portugal on Monday, said the government is seeking aid to help those facing hunger and is encouraging farmers to alter their methods to be better able to face recurring droughts.

      More than half of the former Portuguese colony's population of 17-million lives on less than $1 a day.

      A steady economic growth rate has helped reduce poverty from 69% in 1997 to 54,5% in 2003.

      Guebuza said his government intends to boost access to education and encourage foreign investment, especially in agriculture, tourism and the service sector, in order to reduce poverty further.

      "We have to reduce this percentage as quickly as possible," he said. -- Sapa-AFP
    • 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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