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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi threatens street vendors Malawi s government says it will not hesitate to use soldiers to enforce Tuesday s deadline for all traders to leave the
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 18 6:12 AM
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      Malawi threatens street vendors

      Malawi's government says it will not hesitate to use soldiers to enforce Tuesday's deadline for all traders to leave the streets.
      On Monday, police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters.

      As part of their protests the vendors were holding a prayer meeting, which the police said was unauthorised.

      The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in the commercial capital, Blantyre, says there is a heavy police presence and no sign of vendors trying to resist.

      The government says it is trying to restore order to Malawi's streets. The vendors say the designated markets are not suitable for them.

      'Sanity'

      Abdul-Malik Kakowa, Vice-Secretary for the Limbe Street Vendors, told our correspondent the vendors did not want to move off the streets because the places authorities wanted them to trade from were not ideal for profitable trading.

      "Imagine, they want us to move to a place like a rubbish dump, a bare garden... who is going to buy from us?" he said.

      Mr Kakowa said the designated places also did not have running water and other sanitary facilities.

      Local Government and Rural Development Minister George Chaponda said the government would go ahead with plans to evict the vendors from the streets in the country's city centres, despite the Blantyre riots.

      "We want to bring sanity to our streets," he said.

      Mr Chaponda said the government had spent millions of kwacha constructing flea markets for the vendors to trade from.

      He said any vendor who did not leave the streets would be forcibly moved by the paramilitary police backed by army officers.

      Divine intervention

      Monday's trouble started after negotiations and efforts to get a court order stopping the government from forcefully removing the vendors failed.

      They decided to seek divine intervention and held noisy prayers outside Blantyre's main football stadium.

      Willie Soko, officer-in-charge for Limbe, Blantyre's business district, told journalists police fires tear gas because the prayer meeting had not been authorised.

      "They had no permission to conduct the prayers so we had to disperse them for fear of rioting," he said.

      At least 30 vendors were arrested and charged with illegal assembly. Some braved the tear gas and held the prayers.

      Street vending mushroomed in Malawi when the regime of former President Bakili Muluzi liberalised the economy in the early 1990s.

      Mr Muluzi encouraged informal trading, saying it was part of his poverty eradication programme.

      *****

      Disaster hits Karonga, Nkhata Bay
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 18 April 2006 - 08:00:31
      Heavy rains on Friday and Saturday caused extensive damage in Nkhata Bay and Karonga, resulting in massive loss of property and crops.
      In Nkhata Bay, the Lakeshore Road is impassable at Chintheche as water at Kawiya River has created a path between the bridge and the road.
      Fishermen have taken advantage of the situation and are charging as high as K150 for people who want to cross to the river.
      One of the villagers, Idani Chirwa from Agulu Village, T/A Malanda, said the Kawiya incident has caused problems because they cannot do without the nearby Chintheche trading centre.
      "The hospital, market, schools and other necessities are at Chintheche...and we are in deep trouble because we cannot access [these institutions]," he said.
      But Nkhata Bay District Roads Supervisor Chapukwa Munthali blamed the villagers for the waterway.
      "On several occasions we have told the villagers that by digging sand on the sides of the bridge, they were creating paths for the water but they ignored the warning. Now this is the consequence," said Munthali.
      The bridge has also affected Escom operations as all its vehicles are stuck at Chintheche.
      Escom Regional Manager Ngwile Mwenifumbo said he has dispatched some personnel from Mzuzu to assist with operations in Nkhata Bay.
      Mwenifumbo was worried that some electric poles were in water and that energy transmission could be affected.
      Meanwhile, about 220 houses have been destroyed by the rains and over a thousand people are homeless.
      Member of Parliament for the area Khumbo Chirwa said the disaster has affected people from Chintheche to Kachere and that many people are without food.
      "The number of 40 people that was reported on the radio is not true because that is for only one village. Several villages have been affected and people are at present relying on handouts from relatives, some of whom also do not have food," he said.
      Chirwa, who expressed disappointment that assembly officials were not available to help, feared that the number of people affected would rise.
      He said crops such as maize, cassava and rice have been washed away and that the people need to be given seeds and stems to plant again.
      Police say one woman, Agnes Kateneneka of Chiweyu Village, T/A Malanda, is reported missing after Kande River flooded and swept away property.
      In Karonga, three villages: Mwenelupembe, Kayuni and Kishombe in Senior Chief Kyungu's area have been affected by floods after Wayi and Kasowa rivers also flooded.
      Karonga District Commissioner Felix Mkandawire said about two hundred families are affected and are living in schools.
      Mkandawire said the people have been given part of the food that was for Karonga North flood victims.

      *****

      DPP official 'fired' from Road Safety Council
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 18 April 2006 - 08:27:53
      The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regional secretary for the North Winson Gumbo has been denied renewal of his contract allegedly because he is siding with regional governor Harry Mkandawire in a power struggle battle with Khumbo Kachali.
      Gumbo was Chief Executive at National Road Safety Council.
      Sources in the DPP disclosed that a battle for supremacy over control of the region has reached an extent where those that are seen to be supporting
      Mkandawire are taken as rebels and that every excuse on the table is used to have them removed from jobs.
      "This is the reason why when Gumbo wanted his contract to be extended, political pressure forced statutory corporation officials to deny him," said
      the source.
      He said they gave official reasons that he was spending most of his time in the North doing personal and party business instead of attending to the
      council affairs.
      He was also accused of using the corporation vehicle to run DPP affairs which caused it to lose a lot of money.
      Gumbo admitted that he was denied contract extension in an interview on Wednesday, suggesting that the reason was because he asked for less years than required.
      "I had a three-year contract which expired but I asked them to give me another year which they rejected. What they said was that the contract is
      supposed to be extended every three years and not one year," said Gumbo.
      He said Mkandawire was 'his best friend' and that he was in his office when The Nation called him. However, he refused to talk about his relationship with Kachali.
      On reports that he was spending time doing DPP work instead of NRSC, Gumbo said whenever he was doing party work, he was taking leave. He challenged the reporter to check his argument with the council.
      He however admitted to be using the council vehicle for party functions saying he does not have regrets.
      "Yes, I used the vehicle to campaign for the DPP in the North and I have no regrets because what I wanted has been achieved. Those who are against that should go and swim in the river," said Gumbo.
      Principal Secretary for statutory corporations Simeon Hau was reported to be in Blantyre and his mobile phone went unanswered.
      Kachali has denied taking a hand in the rejection of Gumbo's contract saying there was no way he could interfere with the affairs of another ministry. He said he had no knowledge that Gumbo was out of job.
      On the relationship between him and Mkandawire, he said he had no problem with the regional governor only that there were a few misunderstandings between them.

      *****

      Zambian president says he is still fit to rule

      Lusaka, Zambia

      18 April 2006 01:32

      Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said on Tuesday that he can still perform his duties as head of state despite suffering a minor stroke that landed him in a London hospital two weeks ago.

      "I am feeling very well, far better than when I went in. I am still not fully recovered but I will function," Mwanawasa said in a telephone interview from London with state radio.

      The 57-year-old president said he expected to be discharged later in the day but that he would remain in London as an outpatient. He could be returning to Zambia on Friday.

      Zambia's third president since independence, Mwanawasa fell ill in early April as he prepared to travel to the northern Copperbelt province for a campaign swing ahead of elections expected later this year.

      When asked whether he was healthy enough to perform his duties, Mwanawasa said: "I was actually worried, but to the contrary, I am feeling far much better. I fell sick just like anybody else, but I cannot promise that I will not fall sick again.

      "I don't intend to break until I have broken the yoke of poverty that holds Zambians," said Mwanawasa, who took office in January 2002.

      There has been speculation over Mwanawasa's health with some opposition leaders calling for his resignation, arguing that he was not fit to govern following the stroke. -- AFP

      *****

      Poverty on show at Zim's anniversary

      Angus Shaw | Harare, Zimbabwe



      18 April 2006 07:36

      Zimbabweans mark 26 years of independence on Tuesday with little to celebrate amid deepening economic hardships, personal tragedies and a rapidly widening gap between the rich elite and the poor majority.

      President Robert Mugabe's ruling party on Monday said it was "disturbed" that young Zimbabweans, in particular, showed no pride in their nation's independence from colonial-era white rule after a bitter seven-year bush war in which at least 40 000 fighters died.

      Lavish celebrations are planned throughout the country, including an address by Mugabe.

      Linda (22) an unemployed office clerk, won't be going. Known as a member of the Freedom Generation, or a Freedom Child, born after 1980, she benefited from free education and health care as a child, achieving modest school results.

      Linda -- who wouldn't give her last name for fear of reprisals -- now hangs out in a seedy Harare bar, looking for customers. She said she is aware of the dangers of prostitution in a nation where at least 3 000 die of HIV/Aids related illnesses each week.

      She said some men pay more for unprotected sex. A rival in the bar claimed Linda coughed from tuberculosis, a likely HIV-related infection.

      "What can I do?" protested Linda, in a now-common Zimbabwe refrain. "I have to eat."

      "Too many questions. Don't get me into trouble," she implored in a voice breaking with desperation and typical of the fear felt among many Zimbabweans at Mugabe's clampdown on civil liberties.

      Mercedes limousines were parked outside a posh restaurant and bar across town. Half a dozen of its patrons, drinking doubles, consumed within 90 minutes a bottle of the finest 12-year-old Scotch whisky for a total cost of about 28-million Zimbabwe dollars ($280) -- at least four times the monthly salary of the bartender and other average wage earners.

      The vast and growing disparity between the poor and a rich elite of about five percent of the population is blamed largely on corruption, black market profiteering, favoritism in official contracts and land deals and the peddling of political influence.

      Unemployment exceeds 70% and inflation is the highest in the world at 913% on basic goods. Scarcities and black marketeering have sharply eroded the spending power of the Zimbabwe currency in the past decade.

      Since cellphones went into service in 1996 as fixed phone services crashed, the price of the cheapest range of phones with a line connection has increased 5 000-fold. The price of a single car battery this year could have bought 14 brand new cars 10 years ago.

      An estimated 3,5-million Zimbabweans, many skilled professionals, are living outside the country.

      Disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms since 2000 have led to acute shortages of food, gasoline, and medicines.

      The weak Zimbabwe dollar, plummeting in the worst economic crisis since independence, has hit health, education and other public services. Absenteeism from schools has soared in the wake of frequent fee increases.

      Harare's main Parirenyatwa hospital emergency room on Friday was unable to provide surgical stitching for a woman who split open her chin in a fall. Road accident victims waited hours for painkillers and treatment.

      "We are working in very trying circumstances. We don't have enough staff or resources," said a senior nurse who asked not to be identified for fear of recriminations.

      Health ministry officials acknowledge the shortcomings and have increased treatment and hospitalization charges in a health service that, like education, was mainly free in the first booming years of independence.

      Last week, the government allowed private doctors to double their consultation fees to about 6-million Zimbabwe dollars ($60) a visit.

      In an unusual insight in the state media, cartoonist Innocent Mpofu depicted a doctor asking his sickly patient: "Where does it hurt?"

      Gasped the patient: "In my pocket." - Sapa-AP
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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