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  • Christine Chumbler
    Chilumpha out on bail, confined to Mudi by Olivia Kumwenda, 16 May 2006 - 08:49:43 The High Court in Blantyre on Monday granted bail to Vice-President Cassim
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 16, 2006
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      Chilumpha out on bail, confined to Mudi
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 16 May 2006 - 08:49:43
      The High Court in Blantyre on Monday granted bail to Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha and his alleged accomplices Rashid Nembo and Yusuf Matumula who were arrested two weeks ago on treason charges.
      The State earlier objected to the bail application, saying there is a possibility that the three would evade trial, interfere with evidence and witnesses and that their release might disturb public order, among other grounds.
      But in his ruling, Judge Charles Mkandawire said even though the three have resources they can use to evade trial, he does not see them doing so.
      "The first applicant [Chilumpha] is still the Vice-President of this country and always guarded by State machinery and therefore can easily be monitored and all the three have family ties in Malawi and it can be a huge task for them to desert their families and leave in isolation somewhere else," said Mkandawire.
      He also said the evidence, as the State had earlier indicated, is in their possession, and all potential witnesses*the would-be-assassin and his accomplice*are based in South Africa, thereby making it difficult for the two sides to interact as they are now in close ties with the State.
      "The assassin is said to be very sophisticated and well trained as he is a former military operative in South Africa. He is no ordinary person. I don't think the applicants who have no military training can intimidate him. In fact, it would be the assassin intimidating the applicants," said the judge.
      He also said he does not believe the release of the three will disturb public order, saying the State already released other suspects and there was no public disorder.
      "Why should the release of the three cause violence? There is even no record that the applicants are violent persons," he said.
      The judge also attacked the State for not furnishing the court with the recorded information and witness statements to make a sound decision as was the case with the recent treason charges involving UDF officials Abubakar Mbaya and MacDonald Symon.
      "It would be a very bad precedent if the court just believes what is in the affidavit that there is strong evidence against the applicants without furnishing the court with such evidence," said Mkandawire.
      Chilumpha's bail conditions are furnishing to the court with two sureties with K250,000 cash bond each, to be confined to his official residence in Mudi until the case is finished, not to leave Mudi without authority from the State President through the Office of President and Cabinet, to surrender his passport and travel documents to police, and to retain one official cellphone but should not communicate outside the country and the State could, if it wishes, monitor the communications.
      Nembo and Matumula's bail conditions include furnishing the court with two sureties each with a cash bond of K250,000 each, to surrender to police passports and travel documents, to report to the regional police headquarters every Monday and Friday, not to travel outside the country until the case is finished, not to travel outside Blantyre without permission from police and to have one cellphone for official use only.
      The judge also ordered that only Chilumpha's family, personal medical personnel, his legal team, government officials from his office, personal spiritual leader and security detail should visit him.
      But his lawyer Fahad Assani asked the court to vary the conditions on the passports and visits, saying the passport should be surrendered to the court for fear that the State might interfere with them and that UDF officials should be allowed to visit Chilumpha as he is the acting chairman of the party.
      But Mkandawire advised Assani to pursue the matter as a separate application to have the conditions varied.
      After the ruling, Zione Ntaba representing the State, applied for leave to appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court of Appeal and prayed for a stay order on the bail pending trial in the upper court.
      Mkandawire granted the State leave to appeal but refused to grant a stay order, saying the matter can be pursued in the Supreme Court.
      In an interview after the ruling, Chilumpha said he is happy with the judgement as it shows that the judiciary is working independently and that he believes he is being persecuted because he remained in UDF instead of joining President Bingu wa Mutharika's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
      Asked if he thinks he is going to come out of all this, Chilumpha only replied: "God is great."
      UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu said the party is very happy that the three were released but disappointed that the UDF would not be allowed to visit Chilumpha at Mudi as the party's acting chairman.

      *****

      Taiwan offers to fund Chitipa-Karonga Road
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 16 May 2006 - 09:08:25
      Government last week met representatives of the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC) where the Chinese offered to fund the controversial Karonga-Chitipa Road if the African Development Bank (ADB) continues to reject government's favoured contractor Mota Engil of Portugal.
      But both government and the Chinese officials are tight-lipped on the issue, referring the matter to Finance Minister Goodhall Gondwe who is abroad.
      A source who attended the meeting said the decision by the Taiwanese government came after government approached it in the wake of an earlier ADB decision to engage lowest bidder China Hunan, a mainland China company.
      "You know that China Hunan Construction is from mainland China and even the Taiwanese would not have been comfortable to see it working in the country, because it would have been diplomatically unsound. That is why they promised that they would come to the rescue should ADB fail," he said.
      The source said the two governments agreed to share the cost of the road whereby half would be a loan while the other half will be a grant.
      "It is a better deal considering the fact that the money from ADB was entirely a loan while the Chinese would cover the cost of half the road," he said.
      The source said the Taiwanese assurance made Transport and Works Minister Henry Mussa organise a hasty press conference last week when he announced that whatever decision would come from ADB, construction of the road will start.
      Asked why government is not making an announcement, the source said they are waiting for Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe to make a formal statement after his return from abroad.
      "Soon after coming from outside, he will call for a press conference where he is going to announce that Taiwan is going to fund the road," said the source.
      Mussa is also reported to be outside the country.
      Asked to confirm the meeting and the deal, Mussa's principal secretary Francis Chinsinga said Gondwe was better placed to comment.
      "I do not think my minister is in a better position to comment on that one. Talk to the Finance Minister because the issue is purely financial in nature," he said.
      Counsellor in Taiwanese Embassy Jimmy Wu also referred the matter to the Minister of Finance, saying he was the right person to talk.
      "It is the Malawi government that can talk on this matter. Wait for the Minister of Finance who will make a detailed explanation," he said.
      The Karonga-Chitipa Road failed to kick off because government rejected China Hunan Construction of Mainland China which won the contract in favour of a Portuguese company Mota Engil.
      But ADB insisted that China Hunan Construction should be awarded the contract.
      Gondwe said he would appeal against the decision.

      *****

      UDF to grill Khamisa
      by Zainah Liwanda, 16 May 2006 - 09:07:22
      The UDF National Executive Committee (Nec) has summoned its treasurer general Bob Khamisa on Wednesday to explain his decision to work with government.
      UDF secretary-general Kennedy Makwangwala said Monday the party would like to hear from Khamisa the reasons for his decision to support government while sitting on the UDF side in Parliament.
      But Khamisa said he had not yet received the letter from Nec but is willing to attend the meeting to reaffirm his earlier declaration of his support for President Bingu wa Mutharika.
      Makwangwala said the meeting would be chaired by Harry Thomson to give time to Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha, who was released on bail Monday on treason charges, to rest.
      The party's senior members also met last week when some expressed concern with Khamisa's conduct which they feared would cause confusion since Mutharika and the UDF are not in good books.
      The party's spokesperson Sam Mpasu was quoted last week as saying Khamisa's announcement that he would support Mutharika's policies without supporting his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leaves more questions than answers.
      But Khamisa insisted that he made his point clear.
      "As I indicated, the reasons I want to support the President [are that] I come from Thyolo and the President comes from Thyolo and it does not make sense for me not to support him. If anyone is unhappy about it, so be it," said Khamisa.
      He said he would not join Mutharika's DPP but would only support government from the UDF bench in Parliament.
      Asked whether he has just realised that he comes from Thyolo, Khamisa said he has always supported Mutharika's policies only that he has not openly declared it.
      Khamisa, who resigned from Mutharika's cabinet at the height of the wrangle between Mutharika and the UDF, explained that his speeches in Parliament were always supportive of government.
      Asked whether he would support only good policies and not necessarily government, Khamisa said policies are initiated by government and that he did not see any difference.

      *****

      Tembo wanted to speak at Mausoleum unveiling
      by Rabecca Theu, 16 May 2006 - 09:06:14
      MCP president John Tembo said he is "very happy" that Malawi's first president the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda has finally been honoured with a magnificent mausoleum.
      But Tembo, who was not given a chance to speak during the mausoleum opening ceremony on Sunday, said if he were accorded a chance at the podium, he would have given people insights into the wrangle between government and Kamuzu's relatives who wanted him to be laid to rest at his home in Kasungu.
      "I was the happiest person because it was a very good and important function. The function was organised by government and I was not invited to speak. I would obviously have been happier if I was invited to speak because I feel people ought to have been told the background to that burial site," said Tembo, who is also leader of opposition in Parliament.
      The Leader of Opposition in Parliament said when the late Kamuzu died in 1997, a delegation from the then ruling UDF, MCP and other officials approached the family of the former head of state to ask for permission to bury him at City Centre in Lilongwe.
      "The family asked whether he will be taken care of in Lilongwe and we all agreed he would be looked after accordingly, but the mausoleum has been built almost nine years after those discussions. Why?" Asked Tembo.
      "This was a shameful thing to the family of the late Dr. Banda. This is what was not said and I would have said it if I was given the chance to speak; that is, apart from thanking government for building the mausoleum. I am very happy that Ngwazi's soul will rest in peace," said Tembo.
      But UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu said Monday the idea of constructing the mausoleum was UDF's, which formed several cabinet committees that visited a number of countries to see how others handled such projects.
      "The actual release of funds was not a priority because there were other pressing issues like food and drug shortages in the country, which were considered crucial," said Mpasu.

      *****

      Bwanali, 3 others arrested at VP's case
      by Emmanuel Muwamba, 16 May 2006 - 09:03:57
      Police in Blantyre yesterday arrested UDF's Phillip Bwanali when he was trying to bring a yellow Land Rover belonging to former president Bakili Muluzi to accompany a convoy Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha was to travel in after he was released on bail by the High Court.
      Heavily armed police officers grabbed Bwanali and dragged him to Southern Police headquarters.
      Three other people were also arrested for refusing to leave the court premises.
      Police restricted UDF supporters to Trade Fair grounds.
      Southern Region police assistant public relations officer Norah Mndala said Bwanali was arrested for conduct likely to cause breach of peace.
      UDF secretary-general Kennedy Makwangwala who tried to intervene in the arrest was told off.
      Makwangwala described the arrest as "regrettable", saying Bwanali did not do anything wrong.
      "When we complain that this is a police state people should understand our stand. What has Phillip done that can warrant his arrest here? It is very regrettable indeed," said Makwangwala.
      There was heavy police presence at the court premises, with over 200 officers.
      The officers cordoned off the court premises up to the Masauko Chipembere Highway.
      The barricade which last week was put about 50 metres from the Masauko Chipembere Highway ,yesterday moved onto the junction to the court.
      But commotion broke out when it was learnt that Chilumpha was granted bail.
      UDF supporters moved to the court premises chanting "Chilumpha ndi Boma!, ndi Boma!
      Armed police quickly went to the scene to quell the situation and the chanting group moved out up to The Polytechnic Annex where police kept a close eye.
      Motorists in the Highway were also ordered to take other routes.
      In his address to the UDF supporters on his way to Mudi Residence, Chilumpha thanked them for the "moral and financial" support.
      "I would like to thank all people that gave me moral and any other support. I also thank people who were visiting me in prison. What I can say is that let us wait until the final day. God will guide and take care of the proceedings just like it has happened with the bail," said Chilumpha.
      Hundreds of UDF supporters chanted "Boma! Boma!" when Chilumpha, Nembo and Matumula's vehicles were heading to their respective homes.
      Chilumpha was brought to court in an armoured vehicle with two Land Cruisers, one in front and one at the rear full of armed police officers.
    • 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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