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  • Christine Chumbler
    Ten killed in Iraq convoy attack At least 10 Iraqis have been killed and a Malawian engineer kidnapped in an ambush in the west of Baghdad, an Interior
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jan 18, 2006
      Ten killed in Iraq convoy attack

      At least 10 Iraqis have been killed and a Malawian engineer kidnapped in an ambush in the west of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official says.
      The seven bodyguards and three drivers were killed when their three-vehicle convoy was attacked by gunmen in a tunnel in the Jamia district.

      The Iraqis and the Malawian were working for the Egyptian-owned mobile phone company, Iraqna.

      There have been a number of foreigners kidnapped in Iraq in recent months.

      Dozens are being held in the country as well as hundreds of Iraqi citizens seized by insurgents and criminal gangs.


      The engineers had been on their way to the western suburb of Abu Ghraib to repair a transmitter station when they were attacked, officials said.

      A spokesman for Iraqna is quoted by Reuters news agency saying that that two engineers are unaccounted for, one from Malawi and another from Madagascar, but there is no confirmation of the latter's abduction.

      Eight engineers working for Iraqna - six Iraqis and two Egyptians - have been kidnapped in the past.

      The company, owned by Orascom Telecom, has vowed to continue operating despite the security challenges.

      In other violence on Wednesday, police said the leader of the Sunni Al Bu-Julayb tribe, Sheikh Muhammad Saddaq al-Battah, was shot dead in a flat in the western Baghdad neighbourhood of Bayaa along with his nephew and one other person.


      Muluzi on a 3-month UK retreat
      by Willie Zingani, 18 January 2006 - 04:16:15
      UDF national chair Bakili Muluzi has asked President Bingu wa Mutharika to grant him a three-month retreat in the United Kingdom where apart from receiving medical treatment he intends to have a quiet period to consider other options other than sticking to local partisan politics.
      A diplomatic source in the Mozambican capital confided in The Nation that Muluzi had phoned President Mutharika seeking permission to be away for three months.
      Muluzi spokesperson Sam Mpasu said his office left the UK programme open because among other things the former president is in England for medical treatment on his left leg.
      Mpasu said Muluzi had already visited a private hospital in London on Monday where doctors who examined him said a decision will be made whether or not to sort out the problem with an operation.
      The Maputo source said Muluzi informed other retired heads of state in the Africa Forum (AF) group that he would spend some months in London to reflect on their advice to quit partisan politics and join them in the peace mediation missions at regional and continental levels.
      "Muluzi needs a quiet time somewhere far from home if he indeed has to make an independent decision on the crucial matter his colleagues have put across to him," said the source. "He is a very frustrated and lonely man, he is not the same jovial person we knew because there are many people in UDF who would not allow him make a meaningful move on his own."
      An official in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) who sought anonymity on Tuesday said there was a contradiction as regards what Muluzi communicated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as compared to his phone request to President Bingu wa Mutharika.
      "To Foreign Affairs Ministry Muluzi indicated that he would be away for three weeks, while he phoned the President that he wanted to be away for three months," he said.
      But Public Relations Director at OPC Mike Kamwendo could not confirm Muluzi's discussion with President Mutharika, saying the only officials mandated to shed light on such an issue were State House Chief of Staff Charles Namondwe and Chief Secretary Bright Msaka.
      Both Namondwe and Msaka could not be reached yesterday as they were reported in meetings the whole day.
      Foreign Affairs director of Administration and Finance Chimwemwe Ngwira said the ministry was not aware that Muluzi will be away for three months.
      "The communication we received from staff supervisor at BCA residence indicated that Muluzi will be back end of this month," said Ngwira.
      He said his ministry's responsibility is to provide VVIP facilities to Muluzi being a former head of state but that is also subject to official request after appropriate consultations is made with the OPC.
      Muluzi is currently under pressure from members of AF to slow down on local partisan politics in order to join the likes of retired presidents of South Africa Nelson Mandela, Mozambique Joachim Chissano and Botswana Ketumile Masire.


      Minibus touts petition Bingu
      by Isaac Masingati and Lucas Botomani, 18 January 2006 - 05:35:28
      Minibus callers in Blantyre say they will this week march and petition President Bingu wa Mutharika over their continued arrests by police.
      Southern Region minibus touts chair Isaac Osman said Tuesday his group was very concerned that government was giving a blind eye to their economic plight by chasing them from the streets where they earn their living.
      Osman said just like every Malawian they too have the right to employment and no-one has the mandate to deny them their right to economic activity without offering a better alternative.
      "We feel that government is not being sensitive enough to our woes and we want to bring that to the attention of the President. He might not be aware of what is happening," said Osman.
      Osman said his group had tried to petition the President when he visited Chiradzulu during the Chilembwe Day Celebrations on Sunday but that they were blocked and sent back by armed police five kilometres to the venue.
      He also said their previous attempts to seek audience with the Minister of Transport Henry Mussa had yielded no results.
      "As I am speaking over 500 minibus callers have been arrested during the last three days and no one cares where they will get their bread," said Osman.
      He said many of the minibus callers do not have favourable education qualifications to get a job and that working on the streets was their only means of earning a living.
      Osman said it was therefore unreasonable for government to chase them from the street without providing them with a better way of making money.
      He also denied allegations that many minibus callers were involved in criminal acts and passenger harassment, saying they respect passengers and that it would be self-destructive for them to steal from them.
      Minister of transport Henry Mussa could not be reached as he was reported to be in a meeting.
      Police have over the last three weeks been chasing and rounding up minibus touts from the streets an exercise that has seen around 1000 touts being arrested.
      In Mchinji on Sunday 23 touts were arrested at Kamwendo Trading Centre.
      Mchinji Police public relations officer Felix Chisakasa alleged two of the suspects were also found in possession of Indian hemp (Chamba).
      "Two of the 23 culprits who were arrested for touting following an operation which was carried out by Mchinji police officers on Sunday will answer the charges of being found in possession of Indian hemp which they said helped them to perform their job well," said Chisakasa.
      Chisakasa said that the two culprits of chamba possession were Boniface Chazingwa (17) of Matowa village, Traditional Authority Somba in Blantyre district and Mc Molson Fesa (17) of Jekapu village, Traditional Authority Nyoka in Mchinji district.
      "Ages of the 23 culprits who have been arrested range from 12-35 years and most of them hail from the same district of Mchinji," said Chisakasa.
      He said the culprits will appear before Mchinji Magistrate to answer charges of touting in case of the 21 touts and also charges of possessing a drug without permission for the two culprits.


      olice arrest UDF official, hunting for another one
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 18 January 2006 - 05:31:38
      UDF regional secretary (South) Macdonald Simon was arrested on Monday and UDF deputy regional governor (south) Abubakar Mbaya was as of Tuesday still being sought on allegations bordering on treason, according to a police source.
      The source told The Nation the two are alleged to have threatened to bring down President Bingu wa Mutharika's government during a programme with FM 101, a local radio station.
      The source said Simon was arrested in Blantyre but Mbaya was nowhere to be seen.
      "We have a warrant of arrest on Mbaya which is indicating the issue on treason but we are still looking for him, the police have been to his house in Mangochi but he was not there," said the source.
      Both Blantyre police PRO Elizabeth Divala and Southern region PRO Rhoda Manjolo expressed ignorance on the matter.
      But Police public relations officer Willie Mwaluka confirmed the arrest of Simon on Tuesday and said investigations are still going on.
      "Yes it's true, he is in custody but we are still carrying out investigations," said Mwaluka.
      He did not have further details on the matter as of Tuesday.
      Mbaya could not be reached on his mobile phone.


      Floods displace 342 families in Mangochi, Ntcheu
      by Simon Mbvundula, 18 January 2006 - 04:30:11
      Heavy downpour on Sunday resulted into floods that once again showed its ugly face by rendering over 300 families homeless and a lot of property damaged in Mangochi and Ntcheu districts
      Mangochi District Assembly's Director of Administration Lovemore Chitawo said in an interview that all the seven villages under group village headman Changamile which lies along Nansengwa River have been greatly affected.
      "All the seven villages have been flooded affecting 102 farming families, 50 hectares of maize fields and 32 houses that were built with unburned bricks have collapsed after water went through them over the night," said Chitawo
      He also added that pottery, goats and in one case, seven people complained that they lost their bags of fertilizer and some household items
      Chitawo however said there were no serious casualties referring to the only incidence where a house wall fell on a child who was taken to a clinic.
      Asked what they have done to assist the victims, Chitawo said there was no immediate move to assist them since his office was just mandated to gather details and report them to the Commissioner of Disaster Preparedness.
      Secretary and Commissioner of the department Meriah Nowa Phiri said her office had not yet received reports on damage assessment but told this reporter that her office was ready to act accordingly.
      "I haven't received reports yet, we will be sending plastic sheets, cups, plates, maize flour and beans," said Phiri.
      Chitawo said the floods were caused by environmental degradation and what he called "too much rain" and is meanwhile appealing to the affected people to move to upland and participate in the on going national forestry season.
      "We appeal to them that they move out. Yes the rains were too much but they should consider moving to upland,"
      "We also encourage them to participate in planting of trees en masse and not take the exercise as belonging to the Forestry Department alone," said Chitawo
      Meanwhile, some of the victims are trying to rebuild their housing structures while others are still seeking shelter in nearby Chingamile and Chimwalira school blocks.
      Ntcheu District Commissioner Ali Phiri confirmed in an interview that floods hit 240 families in the Bwanje Extension Development Area (EPA) and asked for urgent assistance.
      "That means over one thousand people are affected if we calculate five people per family and therefore we need urgent assistance," said Phiri


      Chilumpha made UDF vice chair
      by Bright Sonani, 18 January 2006 - 04:27:41
      United Democratic Front (UDF) has come up with a shadow cabinet which has not included the position of President and his vice. Instead it has named the country's vice president Cassim Chilumpha as vice chairman and former President Bakili Muluzi as leader of the party and part of the Cabinet.
      The new shadow cabinet was named on Monday by the party's deputy leader in Parliament Friday Jumbe during a caucus of its MPs held at Chilumpha's Mudi residence in Blantyre.
      But party officials on Tuesday kept a tight lid on the names in the new cabinet.
      Both UDF Chief Whip in Parliament Leornard Mangulama and Jumbe confirmed about the shadow cabinet but efforts to get names of those included proved futile.
      "To strengthen our team as MPs a shadow cabinet was announced by our deputy Leader in Parliament. In fact, we are in a process of reorganising ourselves," said Mangulama.
      He could however not name those MPs included in the shadow cabinet saying that he did not have a full list and referred The Nation to Jumbe.
      Jumbe was also elusive to release the names.
      When contacted on his mobile phone he only said: "It is very difficult, the list is at the house, call me in 30 minutes."
      Efforts to get him again proved futile as his phone went unanswered.
      UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu also said he did not have the list.
      But commenting on why the shadow cabinet has left out positions of president and vice president, he said that was normal since those people in the shadow cabinet are only meant to be spokesperson of specific areas of interest and there was no need to appoint a prime minister or president in the shadow cabinet.
      "Like the Shadow Minister of Health is supposed to be spokesperson for the Health sector," he added.
      But Mpasu, who said did not attend the Mudi caucus, said Chilumpha was not the vice chairman of the party but still acting chairman.
      "The position of first and second vice chairman would be filled at the party's convention and everyone who is interested is free to contest," said Mpasu.
      Some of the MPs who attended the caucus confided in The Nation that Jumbe's announcement of the shadow cabinet included Muluzi as chairman and Chilumpha as his vice.
      Jumbe himself is said to have assumed the position of Finance Minister, Mangulama is for Labour and among several others. Clement Stambuli is for Foreign Affairs, Lucius Banda has been given Information and Tourism while Lilian Patel is in Health.
      Chilumpha's spokesperson Horace Nyaka declined to comment on the resolution made at the caucus saying although the meeting took place at the Vice President's house it was a political party meeting that did not concern the institution of the vice presidency.
      Sources disclosed that apart from the new appointments the meeting also discussed defections from the party to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), MP Maxwell Milanzi's move to withdraw the impeachment motion and also reviewed the weaknesses of the party.
      But Mangulama said the issues cited were not the main agenda of the caucus.
      "The main agenda of the caucus was to follow up on the other caucus we had with the chairman. We were discussing ways on the better management of the party considering that the political environment is now becoming dynamic," he said.
      He said the issue of the defections was only discussed in regard to the three MPs from Chikwawa North Alfeo Gobede, deputy Speaker of Parliament Jones Chingola and Ntcheu North East Michael Sato who recently announced that they have resigned from the UDF.
      Mangulama, however, said the caucus learnt that there were no records that the three have resigned from the party.
      He said the three and Milanzi were not in the caucus.
      On Milanzi, Mangulama said one of the MPs only asked the party leadership to explain the position of the party leadership on the impeachment.
      Mangulama also confirmed that Zomba Central MP Yunus Mussa, who recently announced that he intend to resign from the party, also did not attend the closed door caucus.
    • 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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