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Zimbabwe eyes plan to spy on citizens

Yahoo News

By TERRY LEONARD, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 58 minutes ago

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Times are hard and getting harder in Zimbabwe,
where people too proud to cry about hunger, joblessness and misrule could
soon find it too dangerous to joke about them.

Parliament plans to debate proposals next month to empower the secret police
to eavesdrop on mail, e-mail and phones without any court approval.
The government denies any sinister intent, saying it is putting its
anti-terrorism legislation in line with international practice. But Zimbabwe
is not on the front lines of the war on terror, and government agents could
use the proposed powers to monitor the communications of the political
opposition, journalists and human rights activists who are critical of
President Robert Mugabe.

Secret police and intelligence agents could violate attorney-client
privilege, track financial transactions and negotiations, and eavesdrop on
anyone's private life. Anytime a Zimbabwean visits a Web site, makes a deal
or tells a joke, Big Brother could be listening or watching.

Internet and cell phone service providers would, at their own expense, have
to provide the government with equipment to sort and intercept

The aim "is to monitor and block communications for political reasons and to
use information they get to persecute opponents," said Lovemore Madhuku,
chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a group critical of
repressive laws and actions of Mugabe's government.

Telephoned from neighboring South Africa, he said: "It is part and parcel of
the process of controlling dissent and stifling democratic debate."

South Africa has quietly adopted a similar law, with the important
difference that a court must approve any interception. In Zimbabwe, that
authority would rest solely with Mugabe's minister of transport and

A package of other security and media laws has done away with freedom of
press and speech. People cannot protest against the government or hold
political gatherings without prior police approval. Clergymen have been
arrested for holding unauthorized prayer vigils.

To a government which has arrested people for insulting the president,
joking about him is no laughing matter. It's a felony. It is also illegal to
say or write something that can "falsely" bring the government into

"Jokes about Mugabe are a crime," Jim Holland, the chief executive of Mango,
a Zimbabwean Internet service provider, said in a telephone interview. "But
people send these jokes all the time on cell phones or e-mails."

In one of them, a policeman asks a motorist for a donation toward the ransom
demanded by terrorists who have abducted Mugabe and threatened to douse him
with gasoline and set him alight. The motorists asks what other people are
giving and is told, two or three gallons.

In another, a man tired of waiting in line at a closed gasoline station
announces he's off to State House to shoot the president. He returns a short
time later complaining that the line there was even longer.

Holland believes the proposed law will have a chilling effect on such humor
but that the real dangers lie in the government's ability to target
legitimate opponents and monitor sensitive business and financial

"It is troubling in a country like this with its record on corruption that
the government could monitor financial transactions or even internal
communications ahead of a company making a tender offer," Holland said.

He said in early discussions of the bill a man who would be involved in any
government monitoring effort told a gathering there was no cause for concern
because the proposed law was only a threat "to criminals and human rights

There is a chance that opponents will manage to block the bill, arguing that
it is unworkable and could further undermine the faltering economy. The
opponents also draw some hope from the fact that Mugabe is not personally
pushing the bill. But all agree the chance is slim.

That leaves the courts, but lawyers here note the government has packed them
with friendly judges, and simply ignored rulings it dislikes.

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Zimbabwean tycoon arrested


          July 23 2006 at 12:44PM

      By Peta Thornycroft

      Super rich Zimbabwe businessman John Bredenkamp was arrested on his
estate near Harare before dawn on Friday and is due to appear in court on

      Bredenkamp, 65, returned to Zimbabwe from Britain last week after
being advised in early June that the police wanted him for questioning.

      He went to London six weeks ago, on what his business associates say
was a planned trip, which included his annual date watching the lawn tennis
championships at Wimbledon.

      Several Zimbabwe newspapers reported at the time he left, that he had
fled Zimbabwe to escape arrest in connection with allegations of foreign
currency deals and dual citizenship. The state controlled press said
Bredenkamp, a Zimbabwean, had another passport, which is illegal.

      After his arrest at Thetford, the glorious home he bought and
developed into one of Africa's finest estates in the Mazowe Valley 25 km
west of Harare, he was taken to the fraud squad at the Harare Central Police

      From there he has been transferred to a suburban police station and
is, like other awaiting trial prisoners, receiving food and visitors.

      Sources close to his family say the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is
particularly interested in his case. Bredenkamp made his fortune out of
tobacco when he was living in Europe.

      Bredenkamp has regularly been accused of having close relationships
with various Zanu PF cabinet ministers, in particular with rural housing
minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. They fell out two years ago and have had no
contact since then.

      Bredenkamp is due to stage a spectacular wedding reception for his
eldest daughter at his estate in October, and many top foreign business
associates have been invited.

      This article was originally published on page 2 of Sunday Argus on
July 23, 2006

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650 000 people need food aid in Masvingo province

Zim Online

Mon 24 July 2006

      MASVINGO - At least 650 000 people in Zimbabwe's southern Masvingo
province will require food aid this year following poor harvests last
farming season, according to a senior government official.

      Masvingo provincial administrator, Felix Chikovo at the weekend told
ZimOnline that most areas in the province were in dire need of food
assistance with only a few districts in the drought-prone province having
harvested enough food.

      "Some parts of the province did not have a good harvest and as a
result, they will need food aid this year. We will move food from areas
which had a bumper harvest to areas that have a serious food deficit.

      "Preliminary investigations have reveled that about 650 000 people in
Masvingo province alone will need food aid," said Chikovo.

      Chikovo said the worst affected areas included Chiredzi, Mwenezi and
some parts of Chivi district where some families did not harvest enough

      A villager in Chiredzi district, Steven Mado, told ZimOnline that the
food situation was critical for most families in the area.

      "By the end of next month we will have exhausted everything that we
harvested last March. We are appealing to the government to consider giving
us food aid this year.

      "We had tried our level best to grow enough food but shortage of
fertilizers and agricultural inputs such as seeds affected our production,"
said Mado.

      Zimbabwe has battled perennial food shortages since President Robert
Mugabe began seizing productive farms from whites for redistribution to
landless blacks in a campaign he said was necessary to correct historical
imbalances in land ownership.

      But Mugabe failed to support black villagers resettled on former white
land with inputs and skills training to maintain production, a situation
that saw food output tumbling by about 60 percent to leave once food self
sufficient Zimbabwe dependent on food handouts from international aid

      A report released two weeks ago by the Consortium for Southern Africa
Food Security Emergency, which brings together non-governmental
organisations involved in relief work, said most families in Zimbabwe's
rural areas would again require food assistance this year because few
harvested enough.

      Mugabe however denies his controversial land reforms are to blame for
causing food shortages and instead blames erratic rains and an economic
crisis that he says is a result of Western sabotage and which has caused
shortages of farming inputs. - ZimOnline

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Torture victims hope for justice in post-Mugabe era

Zim Online

Mon 24 July 2006

      HARARE - His hands are bruised. The deep cuts on his darkened face are
only beginning to heal and so are the soles of his feet that were so swollen
he could not wear shoes.

      From observing the injuries you could only conclude one thing, that
whoever did this to him must have wanted not just to punish and maim but to
leave a lasting impression on his victim.

      Meet Thabani Mlambo, a youth official of Zimbabwe's main opposition
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, who was two weeks ago brutally
tortured by members of the army at a military garrison along the highway
from Harare to the capital's dormitory town of Chitungwiza.

      "They did a thorough job on me," Mlambo says, somehow sounding as if
he feels compelled to explain the many scars and injuries all over his body.

      "They beat me up in the groin and dipped my head in cold water while
holding me by the feet and they said for my own good, I should never tell
this to anyone," Mlambo said.

      A slight quiver in his voice and the tears forming in his eyes, clear
signals that his experience at the garrison is perhaps a chapter he would
rather not be reminded of.

      But the assault and torture at Manyame military barracks that fateful
Sunday two weeks ago was not Mlambo's first encounter with state security

      Earlier this year in April, Mlambo was picked up from his home in
Chitungwiza's low-income suburb of Zengeza by  members of President Robert
Mugabe's dreaded spy-Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

      He was whisked away in blindfolds to the CIO's offices at Makoni
shopping centre where he remained for the next three days being beaten and
tortured for working for the opposition.

      "I was terribly beaten up and they only let me go on the third day and
only after my family and senior MDC officials laid a siege on the CIO
offices demanding to know where they had taken me," he says.

      The grotesque dark and purple markings in Mlambo's groin and the black
imprints of whips on his back are testimony of that beating three months

      Mlambo's latest ordeal with state security forces began on a bright
Sunday morning two weeks ago as he waited by the roadside for a vehicle to
pick him up for a party meeting in Chitungwiza.

      A pick-truck pulled-up close to where he stood and as the three men in
the truck made to alight from the vehicle they greeted him.

      Thinking they were acquaintances, Mlambo returned the greeting but
before he knew it, he was bundled into the truck and driven away to Manyame

      He narrates what followed: "First they asked me to tell them which
army officers were conniving with MDC leaders and how far we have gone in
our preparations for mass demonstrations to oust the government.

      "When I refused to answer their questions, they started beating me up,
they beat me in the groin on my feet soles then  they held me up by the feet
while dipping my head in ice cold water. This continued for about eight
hours when they decided to let me go but told me I was never to report the
matter to the police although I could seek medical attention."
      But Mlambo is not alone.

      Thousands of MDC supporters and officials have been beaten up and
tortured by soldiers, police and CIO agents as punishment for backing the
opposition party.

      Many suffer silently, afraid of reporting or even telling their
experiences to friends for fear of victimisation by state agents.

      A recent joint report by two non-governmental organisations working
with victims of abuse and torture, Amani Trust and Action-Aid makes
startling revelations.

      It concluded that one in 10 Zimbabweans needs psychological help while
another one in 10 people over the age of 30 in the southern Matabeleland
provinces is a survivor of torture.

      Rape, electrocution, severe beatings on the body and the soles of the
feet, forced nakedness, witnessing the torture of family members and friends
are all part of a long list of horrifying actions allegedly committed by
government security  forces.

      The government denies that its security forces target its political
opponents for abuse and torture.

      But a study by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum (ZHRF), whose results
were released last month, all but confirms the use of torture by state

      The study by the ZHRF, which is a grouping of more than 17 human
rights and pro-democracy NGOs, showed that out of the torture cases brought
before the courts against state security agents, the victims have won in 90
percent of the cases.

      Human rights groups however note that almost in all the cases, none of
the state agents accused of torturing opposition supporters have ever been
brought to book.

      "Eventually, one realises it's futile even to go to the courts because
nothing happens to the perpetrators," says MDC legislator Job Sikhala, who
himself was once severely tortured by the CIO.

      "My case died a natural death. What is clear is that there is no hope
for torture victims in this country," Sikhala says.

      Innocent Gonese, the MDC's secretary for justice, said the party's
welfare department had a long list of torture victims looking for medical
and legal help.

      He said: "We cannot cope. We are not sure whether we will manage to
help them because it appears nothing happens in the end. We only hope the
cases are important in a post-Mugabe era."

      Maybe in that post-Mugabe era all who are committing torture against
defenceless citizens will be forced to answer for their actions.

      But until then, hundreds of victims have little to expect from a
justice system that has so woefully failed them. - ZimOnline

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South Africa deports 51 000 Zimbabwean immigrants

Zim Online

Mon 24 July 2006

      JOHANNESBURG -South Africa's Department of Home Affairs says it is
battling to contain a tide of Zimbabwean immigrants pouring across the
border fleeing their home country because of economic turmoil.

      Department officials told the local Press that they had deported 51
000 illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe between January and June this year but
more immigrants continued flooding through the porous border between the
region's economic powerhouse and its troubled northern neighbour.

      The department which said it had taken a "financial knock" from the
influx of immigrants said it was on average  deporting 265 Zimbabweans every
day while the cost of detaining illegal immigrants had shot up from 22 rands
per day five years ago to 75 rands today.

      Pretoria spent a total of 218 million rands on immigration control
last year - more than double the amount the department spent in 2004. Last
year 97 433 Zimbabweans were deported from South Africa while 72 112 were
removed from the country in 2004.

      Zimbabwe is grappling an acute economic crisis that is characterised
by the world's highest inflation of 1 184.6 percent, shortages of fuel,
electricity, essential medicines, hard cash and just about every basic
survival commodity.

      The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and Western
governments blame the crisis on repression and wrong policies by President
Robert Mugabe such as his seizure of productive farms from whites for
redistribution to landless blacks.

      The farm seizures destabilised the mainstay agricultural sector and
caused severe food shortages after the government failed to give black
villagers resettled on former white farms skills training and inputs support
to maintain production.

      But Mugabe - who has ruled Zimbabwe since the country's 1980
independence from Britain - denies mismanaging the country and says its
problems are because of poor weather that has caused droughts and economic
sabotage by Western governments opposed to his seizure of white land. -

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Bread price shoots up again in Zimbabwe

Zim Online

Mon 24 July 2006

      HARARE - Zimbabwean bakers at the weekend hiked the price of bread by
more than 50 percent in yet another sign of worsening economic conditions
for the southern African country.

      A loaf of bread now costs Z$200 000 up from the $130 000 it used to
cost last week.

      Bakers say they had no choice but to increase the price of bread after
millers hiked the price of flour from $3.5 million to $6 million for a 50
kilogramme bag of the commodity.

      Milling industry sources told ZimOnline yesterday that the state-owned
Grain Marketing Board, which is in charge of wheat allocations in Zimbabwe,
had also failed to provide wheat to the millers forcing most millers to
import the commodity at a higher cost.

      The latest increase is likely to hit hard most Zimbabweans who are
already battling under a severe six-year old economic crisis most critics
blame on mismanagement by President Robert Mugabe's government.

      Wheat, like most other basic foodstuffs, is in short supply in
Zimbabwe after Mugabe disrupted the mainstay agriculture sector through his
controversial seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless
blacks over the past six years.

      But the newly resettled black farmers have failed to maintain
production on the farms after the government did not provide them with
skills training and inputs support.  - ZimOnline

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MDC youths, women to march to Parliament

Zim Online

Mon 24 July 2006

      HARARE - The youth and women's wings of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) party will  tomorrow march to Parliament to
present a petition to the government to resolve the country's worsening

      President Robert Mugabe, blamed by the MDC for ruining Zimbabwe's once
vibrant economy, opens the second session of Zimbabwe's fifth Parliament

      Youth secretary general of the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the
divided MDC, Solomon Madzore, told ZimOnline that the petition would be
handed to Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

      The Tsvangirai camp of the MDC is the larger of the two factions and
is widely regarded as the main challenger to Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF

      Madzore said: "On behalf of the brutalised young people of Zimbabwe,
we hope to petition the government to resolve this crisis as a matter of
urgency. The youths face peculiar problems such as unemployment, high fees
at tertiary colleges and HIV/AIDS but this government is taking a passive
approach in resolving the national crisis."

      Tsvangirai and his MDC party have threatened to call mass protests
this winter to force Mugabe to accept sweeping political reforms they say
are critical to end Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis.

      The opposition party wants Mugabe to give up power to a transitional
government that would be tasked to write a new  constitution and organise
fresh elections under international supervision.

      Mugabe who has in the past used the army and police to thwart
opposition street protests has rejected the MDC's demands and has vowed to
ruthlessly crush any attempts by the party to instigate a Ukraine-style
revolt by  Zimbabweans.

      The police have also stepped up a crackdown on the MDC banning several
public meetings or demonstrations by the party over fears the party could
use these to spark mass protests against the government.

      Under the government's Public Order and Security Act, Zimbabweans must
first seek clearance from the police before holding public political
meetings or demonstrations.

      It was not clear whether the opposition women and youths had sought
police clearance for tomorrow's march to  Parliament, but the MDC has said
it will no longer seek permission from the police to hold public activities,
accusing the law enforcement agency of using the security law to ban the
opposition party from holing meetings and demonstrations. - ZimOnline

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Zimbabwe probes German foundation


          July 23 2006 at 12:54PM

      Harare - Zimbabwe's security forces are investigating a German
foundation for allegedly financing meetings of a faction of the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

      "Security authorities are investigating a German non-governmental
organisation (NGO), The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), for allegedly paying
bills incurred by the anti-Senate MDC members," the state-run Sunday Mail
said, referring to an opposition faction run by former trade unionist Morgan

      Once seen as the strongest challenge to President Robert Mugabe's
government, the MDC has been split over a disagreement about whether to
participate in senate elections last year, with one group under Tsvangirai
and another led by student leader Arthur Mutambara.

      The German foundation was alleged to have given money to Tsvangirai's
group for meetings in April at a local hotel and at a training centre in
Harare, controvening "sections of the Political Parties Finance Act, which
forbids foreign funding of political parties," the paper said.

      Quoting unnamed security sources, the Sunday Mail said investigators
would look into how on April 13, the FES paid a local hotel Z$119-million
(about R8 272) after a suspected MDC workshop.

      Investigators will also look into the FES's payment of 100 million
Zimbabwe dollars to a local training bureau following another meeting.

      Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for the MDC's Tsvangirai faction, denied
receiving funding from the German foundation.

      "We are not funded by FES at all," Chamisa said on Sunday.

      "Our funds come from old people, Zimbabwean workers, and besides we do
not hold meetings or rallies at hotels... These are done at open grounds or
under the trees."

      Zimbabwe's parliament in 2004 passed the NGO Bill that required
independent organisations to submit to government scrutiny and banned
foreign funding for organisations involved in governance programmes.

      The law however was never signed by Mugabe.

      The government said the controversial bill was a response to the
proliferation of NGOs it alleged were being used by foreign powers as
conduits for channelling funds to the MDC.

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Zimbabwe exodus overwhelming SA - report


          July 23 2006 at 12:21PM

      South Africa is battling to contain a flood of Zimbabwean immigrants
as more people flee across the border to escape economic hardship in its
northern neighbour, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

      South Africa deported more than 51 000 illegal Zimbabwean immigrants
between January and June this year as "floods of people fled economic
collapse", the Johannesburg-based Sunday Times said.

      "The Department of Home Affairs says it is now deporting 265
Zimbabweans a day. Last year, 97 433 Zimbabweans were deported compared with
72 112 in 2004," the paper said.

      Zimbabwe is in the grip of a seven-year recession which has seen
inflation skyrocket to nearly 1 200 percent and the southern African
country's economy shrink by more than a third.

      The country is also grappling with severe fuel shortages and a foreign
currency crunch.

      South African officials told the Sunday Times that they were battling
to cope with the stream of Zimbabweans crossing the Limpopo River, the
border between the two countries.

      "The Department of Home Affairs has taken a financial knock from the
influx of illegal immigrants," the paper said.

      Pretoria spent a total of R218-million on immigration control last
year - more than double the amount the department spent in 2004.

      "The costs of detaining illegal immigrants have gone up from R22 per
day per detainee in 2001 to R75 a day today," the paper said.

      "On being deported, most of the deportees quickly find their way back
into South Africa through makeshift entry points along the
crocodile-infested Limpopo River," it added.

      Zimbabwe's long-time leader President Robert Mugabe has in the past
blamed Western sanctions targeting him and his inner circle as well as
drought conditions for the current predicament, but critics largely point
the finger at Harare's controversial land reform policies.

      Around 4 000 white commercial farmers have lost their land since
Mugabe launched his fast-track land reform program in 2000 to redress the
imbalances in land ownership from the colonial era.

      Fewer than 600 farmers remain on their properties in Zimbabwe, once
called the breadbasket of southern Africa.

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Fair is foul and foul is fair

Mail and Guardian

      Tom Eaton: VIVA GAZANIA!

      21 July 2006 11:25

            Act 1, Scene I. A desert place, courtesy of Operation
Murambatsvina. Thunder and lightning. Enter three Zimbabwean Witches ...

            "When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in

            "How about after Generations?"

            "That will be ere the set of the sun. Sevenish."

            "Where the place?"

            "Upon the heath."

            "Eish, Lulubelle, it's all heath since the bulldozers left."

            Scene II. High camp near Harare. Alarum within -- antacids are
called for. Enter Comrade Mugabe, with chihuahua Idi and Professor Claude
Mararike in tow. But more of them in a moment ...

            The 21st century will belong to Africa. This is because China
will buy Africa the 21st century, in return for all its topsoil and most of
its fertile women. The title deed, illuminated with bootlegged clip art and
scratch-and-sniff Hello Kitty stickers, will prove it: Sold, by China, 1 x
Century (21) to Africa. Congratulations on your engagement! PS: please stop
phoning us. We gave you heap big wampum, now bugger off and leave us alone
or we may be forced to stop being inscrutable. Modernisation will be rapid
and dramatic, and by 2060 African scientists will have pioneered a way to
grow trees in the perma-sludge, while African doctors will be doing
ground-breaking work in the treatment of asbestos-perforated lungs.

            All of which will make for some frisky multicultural high jinks
when modernity meets tradition.

            The belief in magic and witchcraft is a lovely thing. It
provides answers to profound questions. It puts one in touch with the
broader rhythms of the planet. It encourages wonder and exploration. It
offers solace.

            But then one enters kindergarten, and learns why it's not
helpful to lick snails, and everything becomes a little austere. That's the
trouble with developing critical facilities. It robs one of all the
pleasures of being a halfwit.

            Which is not to say that those who believe in the powers of
witches, or of wicked frogs, or of demonic chameleons, or of youth
commissioners are halfwits. Indeed, many of them are successful people,
running large organisations, such as sausage factories and Home Affairs.
Some are even doctors: witness the scene in Khensani hospital some weeks ago
when a teenaged prisoner told nurses that he had a baby living inside him,
after which the baby spoke out of the boy's mouth and instructed them to
release its host, presumably for some sort of paternity leave.

            One can never be too careful when talking babies inside teenage
boys' stomachs want to go on the lamb, and so the staff ordered an X-ray. It
revealed nothing. Said provincial health spokesman Phuti Seloba: "We later
discovered that this young man is just very talented, and has the ability to
make anyone believe that he has a child inside him." The duplicitous fiend!
To prey on the good faith of medical professionals like that!

            Of course, one has to wonder just how many chatty abdominal
homunculi pass through Khensani hospital. Have they ever, in fact,
encountered one? If they haven't, at what stage are they going to embrace
their medieval credulity, and do away with evidence entirely? And if they
have, what were they injecting into their eyeballs at the time? Either way,
why are they allowed to touch human beings, let alone put things into them?

            It's enough to make a decent witch-fearing citizen come down
with bad luck, limp penis, low salary, a spell from a rival at work, bad
rash, cancer, low sex drive and unfaithful spouse all at once.

            But if it all gets too much, one can always visit Vic Falls for
the evening. Which is where Professor Claude Mararike, a sociologist at the
University of Zimbabwe, comes back into the picture; for it was this scholar
who last week broke the news that it is now possible, with the right muti,
to fly in a reed basket between Harare and South Africa. Indeed, the
professor is keen to "develop the science, patent it and market it".

            Further details were sketchy, but one assumes he was describing
the standard single-seater Bulrush Zephyr model, with wicker altimeter,
raffia ejector-seat, and the usual four-gallon muti-tank, that gets about
500 miles to the monkey paw, a little more if you go for the richer mix of
human ear and tiger testicle. Stable and compact, it has only two blots on
its safety record: an unexplained crash somewhere along the banks of the
Nile about 3 000 years ago (an infant survived), and a 1967 hijacking
attempt in which an American heiress held a Zippo to the fuselage and
screamed, "Take this basket to Cuba!"

            A basket case, indeed.

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Congo to hold first free elections in 46 years

The Associated Press
NDAKU YA PEMBE, Congo -- Election banners festoon the rutted main road that
divides the village, but no candidates have come to press for votes from
these cassava farmers whose lives seem locked in another century.
Children draw polluted water by hand from shallow wells. Women walk miles to
collect firewood.

They're only 60 miles south of the capital, Kinshasa, but have no
electricity. Congo is the world's biggest source of coltan, a mineral on
which cellphones depend. But there's no cellphone service here.

Yet the political chatter is lively and savvy in Ndaku ya Pembe as villagers
prepare to join some 25 million of Congo's 58 million people in their first
free elections of a president and parliament in 46 years.

The July 30 vote puts this vast heart of Africa among the continent's
growing array of countries that have embraced democracy, however fitfully.

If multiparty politics can take hold here, after decades of dictatorship,
misrule and two multinational conflicts that came to be called an African
world war, all Africa will have turned a crucial corner.

"We need a really credible head of state, one that will take his duties
seriously, that will help provide a good quality of life to alleviate the
misery, and that means creating jobs that pay a livable wage, not such a
pittance that it's hardly worth waking up in the morning," said Guylain
Kasongo, a 25-year-old farmer.

Delivering ballot slips requires a daily airlift by hundreds of aircraft,
with armies of Congolese to deliver them by boat, bicycle or on foot to the
farthest village in this western Europe-sized country.

Further complicating matters, soldiers and rebels left over from the wars of
1996-2002 continue to terrorize eastern Congo, forcing some 360,000 people
from their homes this year despite the presence of 17,500 U.N. peacekeepers.

It is bound to be an imperfect poll, but Congolese have seized the moment
with gusto. Despite a prohibitive $50,000 registration fee, 33 Congolese are
running for president and 9,500 for 500 legislative seats. In some districts
so many candidates are running that the six-page ballot slips are bigger
than newspapers.

The candidates are a mixed and not entirely promising bag: former rebels
accused of killing, looting and pillaging resources; former cronies of
Mobutu Sese Seko, the late and little-lamented dictator of 32 years; Mobutu
opponents who served in his government and fell out with him; and the
front-runner, Joseph Kabila, who has headed a transitional government for
four years.

U.N. officials have chastised government officials for refusing to allow
political rallies and for encouraging soldiers and police to break up
opposition rallies.

Rwanda's genocidal war spilled over its borders, and a regional battle began
in 1998 over control of Congo's vast resources, which include 30 percent of
the world's cobalt and 10 percent of its copper.

Country after country plunged into the war -- Angola, Burundi, Namibia,
Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe. All sent troops to support Laurent Kabila,
Joseph's father, in return for mining concessions. Madeleine Albright, then
U.S. secretary of state, called it "Africa's first world war." The elder
Kabila was assassinated in 2001.

Four million people died, mainly from strife-driven hunger and disease, and
the war left the country in such disarray that even now, the U.N. estimates
1,200 people die each day in fighting or of diseases such as AIDS, bubonic
plague and malaria.

Facts about Congo

THE LAND: Congo is nearly three times the size of Texas and borders on
Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo,
Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

THE PEOPLE: A population of more than 58 million people, of whom about 25
million are registered to vote. Of more than 200 ethnic groups, about 70
percent are Christian, 10 percent Muslim and the rest adherents of
indigenous beliefs. French is the official language, but dozens of African
languages and dialects are spoken.

THE ECONOMY: Cobalt, copper, diamonds, gold, silver, tin and coltan, an
essential component in cellphones and computer circuit boards, make Congo
one of Africa's mineral-rich countries. It is also abundant in coffee,
rubber and palm oil. Its wealth, however, has only partially been exploited
because of poor infrastructure and years of conflict.

HISTORY: Gained independence from Belgium in 1960 after 75 years of colonial
rule. Its first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated,
and its first president, Joseph Kasavubu, was overthrown in 1965 by Mobutu
Sese Seko, who ruled for 32 years. Widespread corruption and mismanagement
ravaged the nation's infrastructure during Mobutu's reign, which ended in
1997 when rebel leader Laurent Kabila was propelled to power by Rwandan
forces. In 1998, Rwandan-backed rebels rose up again and Congo became
embroiled in a war that drew in the armies of half a dozen African nations
and left rebels ruling rival fiefdoms. Kabila was assassinated by a
bodyguard in 2001. His son, Joseph, inherited the presidency. Joseph Kabila
ended the war with a 2002 peace deal that reunited the country, saw foreign
forces withdraw and brought rebel leaders into a transitional government.

THE VOTE: The 2006 election is Congo's first democratic vote for a new
leader since 1960.

SOURCE: The Associated Press

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