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  • Christine Chumbler
    Floods cause chaos in Malawi, Mozambique 10 March 2006 01:44 Three men have drowned in Malawi, swept away in the swollen rivers that have caused flooding in
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 10, 2006
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      Floods cause chaos in Malawi, Mozambique

      10 March 2006 01:44

      Three men have drowned in Malawi, swept away in the swollen rivers that have caused flooding in the south and centre of the Southern African country, an official said on Friday.

      Police used fishnets to retrieve the body of fellow officer Wisten Dimingu (33), who was swept away by the current as he was trying to cross a fast-flowing river at Malindi in the southern Mangochi district, said Harry Chipeni, a district official who is heading relief efforts.

      Another man drowned while trying to cross a river, while a third was swept away as he was trying to retrieve items floating in the water, said Chipeni.

      "All of the rivers are fast flowing because of the heavy rains which continue to fall in the district," he said.

      The heaviest downpour in 28 years has caused flooding in Mangochi district, leaving 6 000 people homeless, destroying crops and damaging roads.

      The main road linking the prime resort district areas of Monkey Bay and lakeshore hotels, favoured by tourists for their sandy beaches and tropical fish, has been washed away.

      Primary schools have been closed since classrooms have been temporarily converted into shelters for the flood victims.

      There is no access to Monkey Bay, the country's best-known resort area, which is at the foot of Lake Malawi, Africa's third-largest fresh water lake, after a bridge was washed away and 10km of pavement eroded.

      About 2 000 people have lost their homes in floods that have hit the central district of Salima. They are taking shelter in churches, mosques and schools.

      Gold panners die
      Meanwhile, at least seven illegal gold panners have died in the past week just over Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique after heavy rains brought chaos to the area, reports from eastern Zimbabwe said on Friday.

      There are fears the casualty figure could be much higher.

      Hospitals in Zimbabwe's Chimanimani and Chipinge districts are preparing themselves for an influx of bodies amid fears that up to 50 gold panners may have died, according to one newspaper.

      "People are dying and there were bodies everywhere," Ananias Mupondi, an illegal panner, told the official Manica Post on his return to Chimanimani.

      Heavy rains beginning last Friday have brought chaos to Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique, flooding caves where illegal panners stay and swelling rivers.

      Some of the dead are believed to have been swept away by the rivers while others may have died of malaria and pneumonia, said the Manica Post, which is published in the city of Mutare.

      "While the actual number of deaths could not be immediately established, unconfirmed reports say more than 50 people could have died in the past week," the paper said.

      It said thousands of "frail" gold panners have been trickling back into Zimbabwe this week.

      "The situation in Mozambique is serious and panners are dying in large numbers," said gold digger Norman Sundiwa, from Mutare.

      "As we were coming I witnessed six deaths and we buried one in a cave," Sundiwa added.

      Despite the dangers, illegal gold panners have been flooding to an area in Mozambique just 50km from the Zimbabwe border where a rich gold belt is reported to have been discovered. -- Sapa

      *****

      Court cancels order against Chilumpha
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 10 March 2006 - 04:43:55
      The Supreme Court of Appeal in Blantyre on Thursday cancelled a stay order granted to Attorney-General (AG) Ralph Kasambara stopping the execution of both the provisional and mandatory injunctions earlier granted to Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha.
      High Court judge Anaclet Chipeta last week granted Chilumpha an extension of the provisional (interlocutory) injunction on his "constructive resignation" until a judicial review on the matter is concluded, and a mandatory injunction ordering government to restore his security, staff and cars, among other benefits, which were withdrawn by government.
      But Kasambara appealed against the decision of the lower court and also applied, in an ex-partes hearing, to be granted a stay order on the ruling pending the determination of the appeal.
      Supreme Court Isaac Mtambo granted Kasambara the stay but Chilumpha applied to have the order of stay vacated.
      During the ex-partes hearing on the application yesterday, one of Chilumpha's lawyers Kalekeni Kaphale said among other grounds of the application is that the application by the AG was done unprocedurally.
      "When one wants to apply for a stay one ought to first move for it in the court below before going to the upper court but this was not done. Counsel did not make the application for a stay in the High Court. The application was therefore wrongly made," said Kaphale.
      He also told the court that it was again wrong for the AG to seek a stay on the injunctions which have not been respected since their inception and did not even give reasons on why government has not complied with the injunctions.
      Kaphale told the court that Kasambara did not indicate the urgency of the stay saying.
      "We don't have any evidence on how urgent it was for the AG to obtain a stay order especially with the fact that injunctions have not been complied to. There is even no demonstration of irreparable damages that the appellant would suffer if the injunction is in place."
      The lawyer also told the court that the AG's appeal against the ruling has no basis as he did not apply for permission to appeal in the lower court as required.
      In their ruling, Chief Justice Leonard Unyolo and Justices Micheal Mtegha and James Kalaile unanimously agreed with Kaphale that by not applying the stay at the High Court and by not seeking permission to appeal, the AG by-passed the law.
      On Kaphale's argument that the State has not obeyed court orders, the judges said the impression is that government is deliberately refusing to obey court orders.
      "The State is deliberately refusing to obey court orders so it's not fair for the court to grant a stay order. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. We're unable to support the order granted by the single judge. We set it aside. This means the interlocutory and mandatory injunctions granted by Justice Chipeta still stand," said Unyolo, who read the ruling on behalf of the others..
      In an interview after the ruling, Kaphale and his colleagues*Viva Nyimba, Hlupikire Phiri, Innocent Kalua and Edwin Banda*said it is not possible for the AG to appeal against the ruling as it was done by the final court of three judges.
      "What we are expecting now is for government to obey court orders this time and if they don't we will proceed with contempt," said Nyimba.

      *****

      Feed the Nation feeds Nkhata Bay
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 10 March 2006 - 05:39:07
      The Feed the Nation Fund (FNF) has sent over 300 bags of maize to Nkhata Bay to ease food shortages.
      The places where maize has been sent are Sanga, Rwarwe, Usisya and Nkhata Bay Boma.
      The maize relief comes after angry protests from some Members of Parliament and chiefs from the districts after reports that Nkhata Bay did not need relief food because the district grows cassava.
      Traditional Authority Mkumbira complained that people have no food in the district because they could not replant cassava due to lack of rains.
      "Some people do not understand cassava. Immediately after harvesting, you have to plant another one, but how can the stem grow when there is draught," he asked during the maize distribution at the boma.
      Mkumbira said even in Admarc depots maize is not available and that people with money are also sleeping on empty stomachs.
      The chief explained that although only 15 people from each village received the maize, this did not mean that others had food, saying it was the number of bags of maize that determined the number of recipients.
      MP for Nkhata Bay Central Symon Vuwa Kaunda praised President Bingu wa Mutharika for responding to the call that people are suffering from hunger in the district.
      The MP, who kept on shouting the "Bingu woyeee!" slogan every now and then, told a story that happened early this week at Nkhata Bay Admarc where a woman broke her leg while struggling to buy maize.
      "It is situations like these that force me to go deep into my pocket in order to buy maize for them," he said.
      DPP Deputy Publicity Secretary Wyson Mkochi, who represented government, said he would ask the President to bring more maize into the district to save lives.
      Mkochi attacked the opposition for doubting the formation of the Feed the Nation Fund, saying if they had seen the President's vision earlier, many people would have been assisted.

      *****

      Muslim body suing govt
      by Zainah Liwanda , 10 March 2006 - 04:49:37
      The Muslim Association of Malawi (Mam) is suing government, demanding unspecified amounts of money for damages on the Lilongwe Old Town Mosque and injury of several people after Police fired teargas and shot at Muslims who were about to demonstrate against cartoons depicting prophet Muhammad that were recently published in the Danish media.
      Mam chairperson Yusuf Kanyamula said in an interview that they have instructed their lawyers to work on the lawsuit following what he termed "atrocities by the Police on innocent civilians."
      "We have talked to our lawyers. We are suing for the atrocities. The police damaged a mosque, injured several people and arrested many without any valid reason. So we cannot just watch and do nothing about that," said Kanyamula.
      Asked who the lawyers are, Kanyamula said the organisation's Secretary-general Mohamed Imran Shareef would shed more light on the issue.
      Shareef declined to name the lawyers, saying all the information about the case would be ready today as the lawyers were busy studying documents.
      "We have contacted our lawyers to start criminal proceedings against the government. But the lawyer is still compiling. Wait until tomorrow [today] afternoon, that's when full information would be available," said Shareef.
      Deputy Information Minister John Bande said government believes in the rule of law and would wait until the documents are served to hear Mam's arguments on the case.
      The minister, however, said the Police are professional and their responsibility is to protect the people and their property.
      Home Affairs Minister Anna Kachikho was quoted in the media this week to have said government had instituted its own investigations into the matter.
      The minister said the police were forced to quell the situation in a bid to protect people's lives and property after the Muslims started throwing stones.
      During the fracas, one boy was seriously injured while nine others were arrested for conduct likely to cause breach of peace, according to the Police. The suspects were later released on bail.

      *****

      Inflation hits a record high in Zimbabwe

      Harare, Zimbabwe



      10 March 2006 12:37

      Zimbabwe's inflation rate hit an all-time high of 782% in February, according to government statistics released on Friday.

      "The year-on-year rate of inflation in February 2006 was 782%, gaining 168,8 percentage points on the January rate of 613,2%," Moffat Nyoni, acting director of the Central Statistical Office, told a news conference.

      "This means that on average, a bundle of goods and services by households for final use in Zimbabwe was about eight times as expensive in February 2006 as it had been 12 months before.

      "A bundle of goods and services that cost Z$100 000 in February 2005 would on average cost Z$882 000 in February 2006."

      Goods and services which recorded the highest price increases were hair-dressing shops, which went up 3 312,6%, postal services, which soared by 3 064,1% and rentals, which went up by 2 083,7%, Nyoni said.

      Zimbabwe is in the throes of economic crisis characterised by runaway inflation, soaring poverty levels, an unemployment rate hovering at over 70% and chronic shortages of fuel and basic goods like cornmeal.

      Over 4-million Zimbabweans in a population of 11,6-million face food shortages, according to United Nations agencies.

      In January, central bank governor Gideon Gono warned that inflation could peak at over 800% in March before receding to below 500% in June and dwindling to a double-digit figure in 2007.

      Initially Gono had projected that inflation levels would reach between 280% and 300% by December 2005. Inflation in Zimbabwe reached its previous peak in January 2004, hitting 624%.

      Independent economist Eric Bloch said the steep rise in inflation would "cause a lot more hardship" to Zimbabweans already struggling with joblessness and shortages of food and other basic goods like fuel.

      "There are going to be major demands for wage increases, thus causing further inflation," Bloch told Agence France-Presse.

      "This means higher inflation in April and even more hardship for the majority of Zimbabweans," he said.

      Economist David Mupamhadzi said the galloping inflation was a reflection of a failed economy and blamed the jump on the growth in the money supply.

      "We are now feeling those effects of the printing of money," Mupamhadzi said, adding that the rise would fuel demands for higher wages from workers battling to catch up with rising prices of goods and services.

      He projected even higher inflation in the coming months, saying prospects of a decline before mid-year were nil.

      Central bank governor Gideon Gono has blamed inflation partly on the printing of money that he said was necessary to service the debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

      He revealed last month that the central bank resorted to printing Z$21-trillion to buy foreign currency to clear the country's arrears with the IMF.

      Zimbabwe last month made a payment of $9-million to the IMF to avert expulsion from the global lender over long-overdue arrears.

      The body had threatened to expel Zimbabwe from its ranks for failing to pay back loans since 2001 and had given the southern African country until February to settle its accounts.

      Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries economist Bernard Mufute urged monetary restraint and a change in economic policy to rein in inflation, often referred to as the number one enemy by the
      central bank chief.

      "The authorities have to appreciate that we are in a crisis and do something right now," Mufute said.

      "They know what has to be addressed, such things such as fiscal policy, the exchange rate has to be allowed to freely move on its own," he said.

      William Nhara, a government analyst, predicted higher inflation in the coming months and called for collaboration between the state, business and labour to work out measures to control inflation.

      Nhara recommended a price and wage freeze for six months to stop inflation.

      The IMF executive board meeting in Washington this week decided to deny financial aid to Zimbabwe and said the economic crisis in the country "calls for urgent implementation of a comprehensive policy-package comprising several mutually reinforcing actions in the area of macroeconomic stabilisation and structural reforms". -- Sapa-AFP
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22 8:06 AM
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.

        *****

        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.

        Crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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