Zimbabwe: IRIN News Briefs, 29 March

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe warns white farmers
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has warned the country's white farmers that they would face "very, very, very severe" violence if they provoked war veterans who have occupied some 600 white-owned farms around the country.

He made the remarks in an interview with Reuters Television on Monday in which he also accused Britain of leading an international campaign against Zimbabwe after he had criticised the "gay philosophy" of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mugabe said he would not act against the veterans who had invaded the farms in a bid to seize white-owned land for resettlement. "There have been very few cases of violence, but if the farmers start to be angry and start to be violent, then of course they will get that medicine delivered to them," Mugabe said. "And it can be very, very, very severe, but we don't want to get there." He refused to back a court order that police evict the veterans.

Meanwhile, Britain said at the weekend that it had prepared contingency plans to take some 20,000 white Zimbabweans, many of whom hold British citizenship, if the need arises.

ZIMBABWE: More power cuts announced

Zimbabwe's state-owned power authority ZESA has announced a programme of countrywide electricity cuts as a result of its inability to pay power suppliers, South Africa's 'Business Day' newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Until now power outages have been confined to household users in towns. Electricity cuts have now been extended to mines, farms and factories outside Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Mutare. Supplies will be cut twice a week for three hours at a time, the newspaper said.

ZESA is facing a crippling foreign exchange shortage, which has led to defaults on debts to South Africa, Mozambique and Zambia.

ZIMBABWE: Municipal strike closes hospitals

Hundreds of patients in municipal hospitals and clinics were "abandoned" on Tuesday when 10,000 municipal workers in the Zimbabwe capital, Harare, went on strike to press for salary increases, the official 'Herald' newspaper reported on Wednesday.

It said police had to turn away patients reporting for treatment because there were no staff to assist them. It quoted the municipal workers' committee chairman, Cosmus Bungu, as saying: "We have been negotiating for a salary raise since last year and we have resorted to strike action because the (municipal) commission has not been taking this issue seriously."

The newspaper said the strike prevented the municipality collecting its monthly rate and water service payments. It also said refuse had not been collected in some areas. "The city is facing serious financial problems and has had to suspend some capital projects because of lack of funds," the paper said. "It also intends to reduce its wage bill to about 28 percent of its recurrent expenditure. Salaries and wages take up to 50 percent of the city's recurrent expenditure."

ZIMBABWE: Opposition welcomes election postponement

Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, welcomed the postponement of legislative elections to next May, saying it needed the extra time for its campaign.

News reports on Wednesday also quoted the party's leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, as saying he would seek the presence of international observers to ensure the election is fair.

ZIMBABWE: Currency devaluation may be stopped

Leonard Tsumba, director of Zimbabwe's central bank has said that President Robert Mugabe may intervene to stop plans by commercial banks to devalue the national currency in early May.

News reports in Zimbabwe said devaluation of the currency would accelerate inflation which is currently running at 50 percent. The country's commercial banks said earlier that they planned to end the "gentleman's agreement" with Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank, which pegged the currency at 38 Zimbabwean dollars to the American dollar.

The managing director of the Tobacco Sales Floor, Pat Devenish, told the domestic Ziana news agency that the tobacco industry, Zimbabwe's main source of foreign currency, could collapse unless the Zimbabwe dollar was devalued.

ZIMBABWE: Swiss businessman held in corruption case

A Swiss national was briefly detained in Zimbabwe over a corruption scandal which has already seen the arrest of a government minister and senior officials, AFP reported on Wednesday.

In a dispatch quoting police, it said Christian Fillipini, general manager of Newman Commodity, also trading as Andrie CIE SA, had been held overnight on Tuesday as part of an ongoing police investigation into alleged fraud at the national Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

Last week Agriculture Minister Kumbirai Kangai, GMB chief executive Martin Muchero and other top officials were questioned on charges of fraud and corruption. Kangai was later freed on bail.


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