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  • Christine Chumbler
    DZ businessman found with 111 bags of fertiliser by Olivia Kumwenda, 29 November 2005 - 06:21:38 Police in Dedza have arrested a businessman from the district
    Message 1 of 1046 , Dec 1, 2005
      DZ businessman found with 111 bags of fertiliser
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 29 November 2005 - 06:21:38
      Police in Dedza have arrested a businessman from the district for being found with 111 bags (50 kgs) of subsidised fertiliser.
      The development comes barely days after our sister publication Weekend Nation established that some unscrupulous estate owners and traders in various parts of the country are buying the subsidised fertiliser in bulk using corruptly obtained coupons from poor farmers who wait on queues for weeks to buy the input which is also in short supply in most Admarc depots.
      Dedza Police PRO Franklin Gausi said, the businessman, Patrick Chilipa, 29, was arrested on Sunday after a tip.
      "The explanation he is giving is that he got the fertilisers from farmers who failed to pay him after they hired him to carry their fertilisers, saying each farmer gave him one bag," said Gausi.
      The PRO said the police will still continue investigating the matter as the explanation Chilipa has given is not satisfactory.
      "As of now, we have charged him with being found in possession of property suspected to have been stolen but we will work on the charge as we gather more information on the matter," said Gausi, adding that Chilipa did not have any coupons.


      MBC refunds MCP
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 29 November 2005 - 06:20:32
      The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has refunded about $350 (K42,000) to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) meant for broadcasting the main opposition party's press briefing.
      MCP held a press briefing in Lilongwe earlier this month and paid the money to MBC as payment for the broadcaster to air the conference but it did not.
      MCP Second Vice-President and Publicity Secretary Nicholas Dausi told The Nation last week MBC's Director-General Owen Maunde told him (Dausi) that the press conference tape went missing.
      Dausi claimed he told Maunde that MBC should air the conference or return his party's money.
      When contacted yesterday Dausi said although MBC has not aired the conference this time around, the party will not stop inviting the station to cover its activities.
      "We are in a democratic era where information is power and these people [MBC] are denying us our rights. We are definitely going to fight until we reach our destiny, we cannot allow few people to dominate MBC and TVM, no way," said Dausi.
      Asked why the station opted to give the money back instead of airing the conference, Maunde told the reporter to get the information from Dausi.
      "Ask the one who has told you that we have given back the money to explain the reasons as I have already explained to him why we can't air the item," said Maunde.
      Dausi had earlier also accused Information Minister Patricia Kaliati of instilling fear in MBC and TVM staff..
      He said the refusal to broadcast the briefing was a result of that threat, saying the staff want to protect their jobs.
      But Kaliati on Monday said she is not aware of the issue as she was abroad. She said she does not dictate how MBC should operates.
      "I was abroad and have no knowledge of the matter but such incidents have been happening for long, even when I was not the Information Minister, was I also to blame that time?
      "It is wrong to blame everything on me or government," said Kaliati, adding that as a responsible minister she will follow up the issue with MBC.


      Mugabe blames Britain for Aids-drug shortage

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      01 December 2005 07:21

      Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday blamed former colonial ruler Britain for "compromising" his country's battle against HIV/Aids by trying to block anti-Aids funds from global organisations.

      However, Mugabe paid tribute to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria for releasing funds to Harare in May this year.

      "We have suffered further setbacks through the unjustified British-led international demonisation of our country, which has seen some international donors and multinational agencies withholding their humanitarian support," Mugabe said in a speech broadcast on state television to mark World Aids day on Thursday.

      "I must commend the global fund for rising above cheap political considerations and seeing humanitarian value in assisting out programmes to control the HIV and Aids epidemic," said Mugabe.

      Earlier, the government said that about 7% of about 280 000 people in need of anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/Aids are receiving the treatment, a figure it hopes will rise next year.

      Mugabe said efforts to roll out such drugs have been hampered not only by their increasing cost and a shortage of foreign exchange, but by Britain's "demonisation of our country".

      Britain, which ruled what was known as Rhodesia until independence in 1980, regularly condemns Mugabe for what London terms rampant human rights abuses.

      Mugabe regularly responds by insisting Britain is seeking to reimpose its control over his country by unfairly encouraging international criticism. -- Sapa-AFP


      King cancels World Aids Day in Swaziland

      Thulani Mthethwa | Mbabane, Swaziland

      01 December 2005 01:48

      Events marking World Aids Day were cancelled by royal decree on Thursday in Africa's last absolute monarchy because they clashed with a traditional ceremony scheduled for the same day.

      The announcement shocked activists in a country where more than 38% of the one-million population are infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

      Prime Minister Themba Dlamini had been expected to give a speech about the crisis at an event marked by traditional dancing and drama in the rural Mtfongwani area, about 55km east of the capital, Mbabane.

      But at the last minute, Jim Gama, the governor of Ludzidzini royal residence, announced the start of the month-long Incwala ritual culminating with the presentation of the first fruits of the harvest to King Mswati III. No other events are allowed to take place during this sacred period.

      Health Minister Sipho Shongwe, who is also a traditional chief, promised the kingdom would hold its own HIV/Aids day events at an unspecified date next year.

      But a consortium of non-governmental groups decided to defy the royal order and mark the day with the rest of the world at a dinner on Thursday night in Mbabane.

      Mswati has drawn criticism for his lavish lifestyle at a time of widespread poverty and for resisting international pressure to introduce democracy into the tiny Southern African country.

      Activists also expressed alarm on Thursday at critical shortages of life-prolonging anti-retroviral medicines after the United Nations-backed Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria withdrew funding for the government's treatment programme.

      "Counseling and testing centres have run out of ARVs, thus placing HIV-positive people in a precarious position," said Hannie Dlamini, who is also infected.

      Derek Von Wissel, head of Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on HIV/Aids, said funding was cut recently because the country lacked proper drug and patient management systems. - Sapa-AP


      Zimbabwe's evicted and forsaken

      Matthew Burbidge | Johannesburg, South Africa

      01 December 2005 12:02

      On May 25 this year, Zimbabwe's government began Operation Murambatsvina -- a massive campaign of forced evictions and demolitions. Six months later, says a damning Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on Thursday, the government has made no arrangements to provide even temporary shelter to the internally displaced. Thousands of people are now living in the open.

      "We have been out in the open since the end of May when our houses were demolished during Operation Murambatsvina. We are not getting any assistance from anyone. I have two children staying with me, but I sent the other two to the rural areas.

      "My husband does not have a rural home and I don't think he would appreciate it if we went to my rural home. I don't have the money to send my children to school. The kids have colds because of staying outside and in the cold. I can't afford medical assistance. Sometimes we sleep without eating a meal or anything. We don't know what's going to happen once the rains come," a displaced mother of four, living by the edge of a forest in Victoria Falls, told a HRW researcher in September.

      HRW is an international NGO, based in New York, that conducts advocacy and research on human rights issues.

      On the front page of the report, entitled Evicted and Forsaken: Internally Displaced Persons in the Aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina, there is a Reuters photograph of an old man sitting among his possessions in front of his destroyed home in Norton, Zimbabwe. He sits close to a small fire; his toes protrude from his shoes. He clasps his hands; he does not look angry. There are cupboards, couches and clothes strewn nearby. Women and children mill about in the background of the photograph. Perhaps they are trying to reconstruct the rooms with the furniture, repositioning it inside a house that now has no walls.

      In September and October, HRW sent a new research mission to the country to look into the plight of the internally displaced persons. The researchers carried out site visits to numerous locations in four of Zimbabwe's provinces and conducted more than 50 interviews with displaced people, human rights activists, local authorities, church officials, United Nations staff in Zimbabwe and others.

      "The political, economic, humanitarian and human rights conditions in Zimbabwe are all in precipitous decline. While drought and the devastating HIV/Aids pandemic have influenced these conditions to some extent, the actions of the Zimbabwe government and its indifference to the dignity and well-being of its citizens lie at the heart of Zimbabwe's current crisis," says the report.

      "Ruling through intimidation and with respect for the rule of law or the rights of his citizens, President [Robert] Mugabe's latest outrage -- the forced eviction and displacement of hundreds and thousands of mostly poor people from the urban areas throughout Zimbabwe -- has attracted international condemnation but been defended with characteristic bluster."

      'Cruel indifference'
      The report says the displaced "have continued to suffer the cruel indifference of their government; no protection or assistance, no compensation, no accountability, restrictions on freedom of movement".

      The report says up to 223 000 children were directly affected by the operation.

      An ActionAid report found that, overall, 22% of children who had been attending school dropped out because of the evictions. The displacement, says the HRW report, also hindered parents' ability to pay for schooling, which meant that even more children dropped out of school.

      The report says that with unemployment at about 80%, most adults in Zimbabwe try to make ends meet in the informal sector. Many lost their livelihoods when the government destroyed market stalls and other informal-sector businesses and homes.

      Now the government has prevented them from making money by selling fruit, for example, says the report.

      Chipo D, a Harare township resident, told HRW that although his stall was destroyed, he still tries to sell vegetables, "but the police arrest me and make me pay a fine".

      Another witness told HRW: "People whose market stalls were demolished have come back and are selling their vegetables in the open. Police come about five times a day and harass the vendors, and take their goods for free.

      "One woman got tired of police harassment and threw stones at the policeman three weeks ago. She was arrested by the police, and I don't know what happened to her."

      The report says the Zimbabwean government has persistently obstructed humanitarian operations. It says the UN staff interviewed by HRW in September and October cited the Zimbabwean government's continuous obstruction of operations as the main reason for the international agencies' inability to implement their programmes.

      In its recommendations, among others, HRW calls on the Zimbabwe government to take urgent measures to provide protection and assistance to the displaced, including shelter, food, water and sanitation and medical services.

      It also calls on the government to allow the special envoy of the African Union Commission, Tom Nyanduga, to return to Zimbabwe and fulfil his mandate and report to the AU on the status of internally displaced people.

      It calls on the AU to adopt a resolution strongly condemning the mass evictions and demolitions as well as strongly condemning the obstruction of international humanitarian assistance.

      The report says the plight of people displaced by the Zimbabwean government cannot be overlooked any further.

      "It must generate a sense of outrage sufficient to trigger concerted action to protect and assist the displaced."

      The full report is at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/zim1205/
    • 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

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