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  • Christine Chumbler
    Kamuzu Day may be revived by Zainah Liwanda, 19 May 2006 - 06:31:03 Government is planning to revive the Kamuzu Day, which used to be commemorated on the 14th
    Message 1 of 1046 , May 19, 2006
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      Kamuzu Day may be revived
      by Zainah Liwanda, 19 May 2006 - 06:31:03
      Government is planning to revive the Kamuzu Day, which used to be commemorated on the 14th of May with a public holiday to celebrate the birth of the country's first President, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
      Information Minister Patricia Kaliati said on Monday that the Ministry of Local Government was given the responsibility of coming up with proposals on the issue for cabinet to discuss.
      Kaliati's remarks came amid rumours swirling in Lilongwe on Monday prior to the opening of Banda's mausoleum that President Bingu wa Mutharika would declare the day a public holiday.
      Some schools in Lilongwe sent children back, saying it was a public holiday.
      Mutharika, who officially opened the mausoleum, showered praises on Kamuzu, accusing the UDF government of trying to erase the Ngwazi's name from history.
      He said Kamuzu laid the foundation for the country's development, the reason his government honoured him with a mausoleum, pledging more honours.
      Some people who witnessed the unveiling of the mausoleum waited anxiously to see whether Mutharika would declare the day a public holiday.
      Kaliati said she heard rumours about the public holiday, and was surprised because a decision had not yet been made as there are many days being proposed by different quarters for different achievers.
      Local government minister George Chaponda said he was in Kenya when contacted for details of the proposed dates.


      Chihana sick, flown to SA
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 19 May 2006 - 06:25:51
      Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana was Tuesday flown to South Africa (SA) for medical attention after suffering from persistent headache for sometime.
      Aford's publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said Thursday Chihana was admitted to Mwaiwathu Hospital for about two days before the doctors recommended that he be flown to SA.
      "He has had the problem for sometime, he is at the Garden City Clinic but I don't know his condition as of now," said Nyirenda.
      Chihana, who is the former second Vice-President, is also a Member of Parliament for Rumphi Central.
      Nyirenda said Chihana has gone to SA on his own, saying government is not involved.
      He added that in the absence of the party's president, all policy matters are being referred to national party chairman Chipimpha Mughogho.


      State, defence trade wits in private parts case
      by Juliet Chimwaga, 19 May 2006 - 06:14:14
      First state witness Detective Sub-Inspector Chilondola on Wednesday battled in court to prove that police found Felix Maganga and Leornad Ganizani selling male human private parts at Lilongwe Hotel.
      The accused, being represented by Principal Legal Aid Advocate Suzgo Lungu and Senior Legal Aid Advocate Felix Dambulasi, were allegedly found with private parts at Lilongwe Hotel on 6 April this year, a case that shocked the entire nation.
      The defence team argued that Maganga and Ganizani were not found selling the human parts, pressing Chilondola in cross-examination to change the charge to reflect the fact that police only found them in possession of the private parts.
      Lungu told the court that the charge should read 'found the accused in possession' and not 'found the suspects selling the private parts', saying there was no proof that the police found the two selling the private parts.
      "You have told this court that you found the accused men with private parts and that you did not find them selling them. Would you change the charge of 'being found selling the private parts,' to 'being found in possession of the private parts?" argued Lungu.
      But Chilondola insisted that he cannot change the charge because the suspects confessed that they took the parts to the hotel for sale to an undisclosed person.
      He added that the suspects told him that they were asked to find the human private parts by a man they identified only as Chisepo but that they were reluctant to execute the idea.
      Read the caution statement the two presented to the police: "We were later given the private parts by Sumaili Daudi at our homes in Lumbadzi who told us to get them to Chisepo, but instead we met Chisepo's boss with whom we drove to Lilongwe Hotel where we were told to meet the buyer (unnamed), but police caught us there."
      The charge was earlier amended from 'being found in possession of the parts' to read that the two were found selling the private parts in order to find a clause the accused had violated in the law.
      Chisepo and Daudi are charged with murder for allegedly killing the owner of the private parts.
      Chilondola presented the genitals in court as part of state evidence.
      The case has been adjourned to 25 May when the State will be parading more witnesses. The murder case will start as soon as the current case is through, according to the court.


      Govt opens Admarc markets
      by Tadala Makata Kakwesa , 19 May 2006 - 05:53:33
      Government says it has started buying maize at Admarc markets throughout the country, pegging the maize at K20 per kilogramme and K30 per kilogramme for cotton.
      Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Uladi Mussa said on Thursday during a press briefing in Lilongwe that the price structure announcement means all Admarc depots should start buying maize from smallholder farmers.
      The announcement comes two months after President Bingu wa Mutharika announced during the official opening of this year's tobacco sales that his government would be announcing set prices for all commodities.
      "The prices take into account the cost of production. Admarc will, therefore, start buying maize at this price across the country and I appeal to all traders to be buying the commodity at this set price or more," he said.
      Mussa said official figures indicate the country expects more than 2.3 million metric tonnes of maize harvest, indicating a surplus of 200,000 metric tonnes from the official 2.1 million metric tonnes national consumption.
      According to Mussa, the country, which requires a total of 2.1 million metric tonnes for the whole year, yielded only 1.3 million metric tonnes last year, leaving a food deficit of close to 800,000 metric tonnes.
      When asked to comment on the set prices, Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) acting deputy director Frank Ngalande welcomed the move which he said is meant to protect the farmers' welfare.
      "When government was setting these minimum prices, it was aware of the dominant buyers who will try to use their dominance to deflate the prices. This is an ideal measure which should be implemented and Cama applauds the move," said Ngalande.
      Ngalande, however, asked government to take into account the law of supply and demand which he said controls the market.
      According to Mussa, government has set aside K3.5 billion from the national budget for Admarc to use to purchase farm produce.
      On the districts which were affected by the drought, Mussa said government has put in place measures to encourage winter cropping and to distribute treadle pumps for them to plant other crops.
      He also asked the farmers not to sell all the maize but to keep some for consumption.
      On tea, Mussa indicated that his Ministry is still awaiting for the Ministry of Justice to come up with new policies on the crop.
      Last week, the World Food Programme (WFP) announced in its situation report that food security has improved in most areas where harvesting of maize and other main staple food crops is taking place.


      Pressure mounts on Mugabe to quit

      Dumisani Muleya

      19 May 2006 10:22

      Prominent church leaders are expected to meet President Robert Mugabe next week to discuss Zimbabwe's deteriorating political and economic situation as pressure mounts at home and abroad for him to quit.

      This comes against a background of South Africa's evident alarm this week at the deepening crisis in Zimbabwe. It also follows reports that United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was working on a plan in search of a breakthrough to the problem.

      The dramatic economic decline -- which has seen inflation surging to a record 1 042,9% -- is said to have created a new sense of urgency among all stakeholders.

      Official sources said the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the All African Council of Churches (AACC) leaders were due to meet Mugabe for talks on a wide range of issues later in May. Mugabe has said he only intends stepping down in 2010.
      The ZCC has stepped up criticism of government policies. The meeting has the blessing of the World Council of Churches, which is said to be deeply concerned about the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans.

      Sources said ZCC president Bishop Peter Nemapare, his deputy Bishop Sebastian Bakare and secretary general Densen Mafinyane, as well as AACC secretary general Bishop Mvume Dandala would meet Mugabe in a bid to find a solution to Zimbabwe's simmering seven-year crisis.

      Nemapare confirmed the meeting but refused to give details, saying it was a "courtesy call on the president".

      Meanwhile, South African deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad said the increased number of Zimbabwean economic refugees fleeing the meltdown in their country called for an urgent solution. There are reportedly over two million illegal Zimbabweans living in South Africa, he said.

      Pahad's remarks on Wednesday broke Pretoria's silence over the decline in Zimbabwe. South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been grappling with the Zimbabwean problem for the past six years, has hitherto stuck to a policy of quiet diplomacy in dealing with the situation.

      Clergymen have been involved before in trying to resolve the crisis. Bakare led an initiative three years ago to broker talks between the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

      There have been several other church leaders who have been involved in the search for a solution to the now global Zimbabwe issue. Mugabe's confidant Father Fidelis Mukonori, South African Council of Churches leaders and Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane have also been involved.

      Mukonori, like Mbeki and other foreign heads of state, has tried to arrange talks between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

      Pahad said South Africa was anxious to get details of the Annan proposal. "We look forward to getting more information on the Annan trip. One assumes he won't come unless he sees prospects of a breakthrough," he said.

      Professor Ibrahim Gambari, UN Under Secretary General for political affairs, held separate talks in South Africa last month with Mbeki and Zimbabwe's Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi to discuss the Annan plan.

      Pahad said South Africa was talking to other Southern African countries and "further afield", as well as to the African Union over the Zimbabwe issue.

      "We have been concerned about the deteriorating economic situation, where inflation has now reached 1 000%, and the predictions are it can get worse," he said. * Zimbabwe Independent


      Mugabe donates computers ahead of by-election

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      19 May 2006 12:58

      Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has donated 100 computers to 10 schools in Harare ahead of a parliamentary by-election in a key suburb, reports said on Friday.

      Voters in the low-income suburb of Budiriro are due to go to the polls on Saturday to fill a parliamentary seat left vacant by the death of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP Gilbert Shoko.

      Mugabe made the donation after addressing crowds at a rally at a school in Budiriro on Thursday, when he urged voters not to vote for the MDC which he called a "foreign creation," according to the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

      "Yesterday's donation meant that all secondary schools in the Glen View-Mufakose District -- which covers Budiriro constituency -- have benefited from the president's computerisation programme," the paper said.

      The 82-year-old Zimbabwean president began handing out computers to schools ahead of presidential elections in 2005, when some schools in Zimbabwe's rural areas also benefited.

      But there has been muted criticism of the donations because not all schools have electricity or computer teachers and in some cases the computers are reported to have lain idle or been stolen.

      At the rally, Mugabe also confirmed the government's controversial plans to take a 51% share in all mines.

      "You [mine owners] will get 49%, we will get 51%, that is the policy of government. It is there for the taking, take it or leave it, leave it or take it," he said.

      There are three candidates competing for the Budiriro parliamentary seat: Jeremiah Bvirindi of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party, Emmanuel Chisvuure of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC and
      Gabriel Chaibva of the Arthur Mutambara-led MDC faction. - Sapa-DPA


      Zimbabwe faction leader arrested

      The leader of one faction of Zimbabwe's main opposition party has been arrested while campaigning for a by-election in the capital, Harare, his party says.
      Two other MPs and some 60 supporters of Arthur Mutambara's wing of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were also detained, party officials said.

      Both MDC factions are fielding candidates in Saturday's election in what was an opposition stronghold.

      Meanwhile, trade unions are considering calling a series of general strikes.

      Leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions are meeting to decide on what action to take after the failure of five-month talks with the government to protect wages in a country where annual inflation is more than 1,000%.


      Under tough security laws, the police must give permission for all demonstrations, and protests by groups not allied to the governing Zanu-PF party are rarely authorised.

      But Mr Mutambara's spokesman Maxwell Zimuto said the police had given the go-ahead for the march, which the party had agreed to delay until after a rally by President Robert Mugabe.

      "We were surprised when we were intercepted and driven into the police station," Mr Zimuto told the AFP news agency.

      The by-election in the Harare suburb of Budiriro follows the death of MDC MP Gilbert Mutimutema Shoko.

      Mr Mutambara was elected earlier this year to lead one faction of the MDC, after the party split last year.

      This is the first time he has been arrested since his return to Zimbabwe in February.

      On Thursday, police arrested about 100 people marking the anniversary of last year's slum clearance programme, in which the UN says some 700,000 people lost either their homes or their jobs.

      The ZCTU's Collin Gwiyo told the BBC's Network Africa programme that police had also sent home trade unionists from Ghana and South Africa who had planned to join their two-day meeting.

      He said the union, which represents 30 worker organisations with 1m members, was struggling for workers to receive "a living wage which is linked to the galloping inflation".

      Independent estimates put the level of unemployment at 80%, whereas official figures say it is less than 10%.

      The country is suffering from chronic shortages of basic goods and fuel.

      The opposition says Mr Mugabe's economic mismanagement has destroyed what was once one of Africa's most vibrant economies.

      Mr Mugabe blames the economic problems on sabotage by western nations opposed to his policy of land redistribution.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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


        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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



        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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