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  • Christine Chumbler
    Bingu s Chief of Staff job in limbo by Mabvuto Banda, 06 March 2006 - 05:14:29 The job of State House Chief of Staff Charles Namondwe is in limbo following
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 6, 2006
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      Bingu's Chief of Staff job in limbo
      by Mabvuto Banda, 06 March 2006 - 05:14:29
      The job of State House Chief of Staff Charles Namondwe is in limbo following President Bingu wa Mutharika's reported unhappiness with Namondwe's performance, The Nation has learnt.
      Highly placed sources at the State House alleged that Namondwe has been, in fact be, "fired." But government has dismissed the claims as false.
      Namondwe, who is said to be related to the President, has since not been seen at presidential functions in the last few months.
      But Secretary to the President and Cabinet Bright Msaka Sunday said: "I have reason to believe that it [the dismissal] is false*You might be jumping the gun."
      Mike Kamwendo, Director of Public Relations in the Office of the President and Cabinet, said he was not aware of anything about Namondwe.
      Namondwe's cellular phone went unanswered on Sunday and the whole of last week when The Nation tried to reach him for comment.
      Namondwe rose to prominence after he replaced Ken Zikhale Ng'oma whose position as Chief of Staff earned him the name 'Mr. Prime Minister.'
      Zikhale was sacked after he failed to relinquish his position as Secretary-General of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The law stops civil servants from doubling as politicians.


      Plot to remove Tembo as leader of the opposition
      by Gedion Munthali, 04 March 2006 - 02:32:06
      Malawi Congress Party (MCP) parliamentarians are plotting to petition Speaker Louis Chimango to remove their party president John Tembo as leader of the opposition when Parliament meets next month, Weekend Nation can reveal.
      An MP from Lilongwe said this week about 45 members have already confirmed they will sign the petition to remove Tembo, whom they accuse of abusing his position to strike deals with other parties without consulting the party's MPs or its national executive committee.
      "Being leader is just a privilege not a right. If you abuse privileges, they must be taken away from you," said the MP who is also a member of MCP National Executive Committee.
      The plot to remove Tembo as leader of the opposition follows another plot within MCP where disgruntled members want to slap their president with a vote of no confidence at an extra ordinary convention to be called soon after Parliament is adjourned.
      Another MP from Dedza said the group also wants Tembo removed because he MPs during party caucuses.
      "We are fed up with being intimidated," said the member who claimed to be among the 39 MPs who wrote a letter protesting Tembo's management style late last year. "These are days when leaders must accept diversity of opinion. How do you enrich the party if you take those with a different opinion as rebels or confusionists?"
      A parliamentarian from Kasungu, also claiming to be among authors of the letter, said they will use the procedure used to remove Gwanda Chakuamba as leader of opposition in 2002. Chakuamba was removed when MPs sympathetic with Tembo*who were in majority*petitioned former Speaker Sam Mpasu.
      Mpasu asked MCP MPs to walk out of the House and resolve their leadership issue. Back in the House, Chimango, who was MCP Chief Whip, reported that the MPs had resolved to ditch Chakuamba and replace him with Tembo as their new leader in the House.
      According to a parliamentary handbook, the position of Leader of the Opposition goes to a leader of the largest opposition party in the House. It is not known who the MP want to replace Tembo with. Tembo on Thursday declined to comment on the issue.
      Meanwhile, a meeting of Tembo, his deputy Nicholas Dausi and five regional chairmen for the North, Centre, Lakeshore, East and South agreed two weeks ago to put on hold regional elections for four regions and district elections throughout the country for fear of bringing on board people sympathetic with the group which is planning to oust Tembo.
      A highly placed source said the meeting, held in Lilongwe, was called following media reports that some MCP executive members, MPs and district officials were plotting to remove Tembo.
      "It was agreed that elections in the four regions*North, Centre, Lakeshore and East*should not be held, but that existing vacancies should just be filled. The South already held elections two months ago," said the source.
      "It was admitted at the meeting that the network of the 'rebel group' is real, and that the likelihood that the new committees would be full of their people was high because they are using money," said the source. "It was feared they would use these people, being eligible delegates to a convention, to remove the president."
      A letter written purportedly by 39 MCP parliamentarians asked Tembo to ensure regional and district elections are held in compliance with a resolution of the MCP convention in 2004 which elected him as party president.
      The resolution, according to the letter, was that the regional and district elections should be held immediately after the 2004 general elections.
      "So, to suspend these elections in the four regions is a violation of the convention's resolution and it is an impeachable offence," added the source.
      Dausi confirmed the meeting took place but declined to disclose issues that were discussed.
      "Sometimes you people ought to be fair. Internal matters of MCP must remain internal. Do we demand that you should tell us what you discuss in your meetings?" queried Dausi.
      He however admitted that some committees had overstayed*some close to 10 years.
      "It is true that some committees have overstayed. What the party will do is just fill the existing vacancies in those committees. We do not have money to conduct full scale elections," said Dausi.
      Asked if the party was ready to defy a resolution of its own convention that full-scale elections of regional and district committees should be held after 2004 general elections, Dausi declined to comment.


      Women parliamentarians vow to fight gender based violence
      by Edyth Betha, 06 March 2006 - 05:51:05
      Women MPs in the country have said most bills that favour women fail to pass because there is a poor representation of women in Parliament.
      This was said during a 5-day training workshop for women parliamentarians and the civil society in Blantyre last week.
      Chairperson of the Women's Parliamentary Caucus, Lillian Patel said the workshop came at the right time when Parliament is about to convene because it will enable the MP's acquire skills in advocacy and consultation procedures which will help advance the women's agenda of taking forward gender issues and women empowerment.
      Patel said the women Mps are at the moment concerned with the escalating cases of violence against women in the country and that the women condemn the practice.
      "We cry for our mothers, sisters and children who have had their hands chopped, their eyes gorged out and even killed. We join everybody to condemn all this and promise that when the Bills are tabled, they will be passed," she said.
      Patel also said in the Women's Parliamentary Caucus strategic plan, the women parliamentarians recognise the fact that they need to work together with NGO's and the civil society in the implementation of this plan.
      The aim of the workshop, which was conducted with funding from the British Council and the Active Learning Centre of Scotland, was to equip the MPs with better knowledge and skills to operate effectively in Parliament.


      Malawian child held in Mozambique for ransom
      by Emmanuel Muwamba, 06 March 2006 - 05:49:30
      A Malawian child, Friday Kalonga, 7, is being held in Mozambique for 14 months now because of his father's failure to pay for house rentals to a Mozambican national, The Nation has learnt.
      Wyson Kalonga, the father to the child, has been seeking assistance from government departments and civil society but up to now nothing has happened.
      The Ministry of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services * which is one of the government departments where Kalonga first reported the matter to * says in its letter to the Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) that it is willing to help.
      "The Ministry... is deeply concerned by the plight of this innocent child who is being held hostage because of non payment of house rentals by parents. (The) case is an inter country hence we need your legal expertise in speeding up retrievement of this child from Mozambique," says the letter dated April 27, 2005 and signed by a M.A. Khonje of the Gender Ministry.
      MHRC Executive Secretary Emmiliana Tembo in her letter dated May 6, 2005 to A. Mchiela of Ministry of Gender says the matter is of an extra-territorial character and that the Commission has no jurisdiction beyond the boundaries of Malawi.
      She therefore said the commission can neither investigate nor take it up directly with the Mozambican authorities.
      However, the Ministry of Gender in its letter dated February 17, 2006 to village heads Kalonga and Namatimba in Nsanje verifies the ministry has left the matter with the Mozambican Government to follow up the whereabouts of Friday.
      Kalonga left Malawi in 2001 while working for Illovo Sugar Company who had won a contract of fallow irrigation at Sena Sugar Company. He got a job with the Ministry of Agriculture of Mozambique in 2002.
      The Human Resources Officer of Sena Sugar Company, Olrando Laziz Morte, agreed with a landlord Roberto Maria to allow Kalonga and his family stay in one of his houses and that the Government of Mozambique would be responsible for payment of rent.
      "Since his employment, Kalonga has not been paid. It has been 3 years now and his rentals were not being paid also. In December 2004, Kalonga's family was evicted from the house. The landlord locked up the house and the Kalonga's were not allowed to take anything out until they paid 54, 100,000 MT . The landlord also detained Friday, Kalonga's son who is still being detained," reads a letter from Regional Community Services Officer (S) to the Secretary for Gender and Community Services.
      Kalonga reported the matter to the Malawi Ambassador in Mozambique and a Mr. Mwapasa arranged transport for the family and promised to look into the child issue but to no avail. He came to Malawi in April, 2004.


      Mchinji source of maize
      by George Ntonya, 06 March 2006 - 05:47:45
      While most districts in the country are still facing acute maize shortage, Mchinji has become a source of grain to business people from Kasungu and Lilongwe.
      Every day vendors are trekking to Mchinji Boma to buy maize for re-sale in their respective areas where a 50-kg bag is fetching up to K3,500, four times the government recommended price.
      "I am selling a pail of maize (about 20 kg) at K650 each and I have a lot of maize in store," said 68 year-old Filipo Zinyongo from Ndawambe Village in Traditional Mlonyeni's area. He is one of the smallholder farmers in Mlonyeni's area who participated in winter cropping.
      A pail of maize that costs vendors K650 at Ndawambe fetches them up to K1,500 in places like Lilongwe.
      "When you look at the figures you would think we are making a lot of profit but this is not the case because there are hidden costs we have to meet like transport," said Diego Kamwendo, a vendor from Lilongwe, on Friday.
      He said the price of the commodity goes up when the farmers ferry it from their respective areas to the boma and when there are many vendors looking for it.
      "We have to thank God that we have enough maize and other food crops for home consumption and a surplus for sale at a time when people in other areas are starving," said 56 year-old Pontino Madise from Molosiyo Village.
      Nearly five million Malawians, most of them in rural areas, are said be in need of relief food. Meanwhile, the scarcity of maize in Admarc depots has created an opportunity for vendors and other business people to charge exorbitant prices for the commodity.


      Woman injured at Rumphi maize stampede
      by Francis Tayanjah-Phiri, 06 March 2006 - 05:28:14
      One woman suffered a deep cut on the forehead and others sustained bruises on Friday when a stampede for maize ensued at Rumphi Admarc Market where hundreds of people forced their way through the market gates in a desperate bid to buy the commodity.
      The stampede ensued when market officials directed that only those who had previously registered should buy the maize. This did not go down well with some who had queued on the line but had not registered prior to the arrival of the maize on Friday.
      Some of the people outside the gates started throwing stones at those who were inside, forcing many to run for their lives. As the stones were being thrown, many*especially women, fell on each other, while others sustained bruises.
      The officials called for police which was equally charged at by some of the buyers before the situation was quelled. The police fired in the air to scare the crowds.
      Rumphi police spokesperson Victor Khamisi confirmed both the stampede and stoning, saying one woman suffered a deep cut on the forehead.
      "We have arrested one suspect who is in our custody following the stoning. We also took the [injured] woman to Rumphi Hospital where she had some stitches done on the deep wound," said the PRO.
      Khamisi however denied reports that one police officer was beaten by the people.
      "It is just that somebody charged at the policeman. He [the policeman] was not beaten and police contained the situation. Actually, by late Saturday afternoon the situation was normal. Of course, the market has run out of maize again now," said Khamisi.
      Most Admarc sales points in the Northern Region have not had maize for long but desperate people continue queuing at the centres daily.
    • 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.


        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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