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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 17:17 GMT
Shock defeat for Mugabe
President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe's government faces the threat of EU sanctions
Zimbabwe's opposition has blocked one of three controversial bills, which are seen as a key part of Robert Mugabe's strategy to win elections in March.


It was one of the bills that had been seeking to disenfranchise many of our supporters

Gibson Sibanda

The bill sought to ban foreign and independent local election monitors and outlaw election posters and leaflets without prior permission.

The Movement for Democratic Change outvoted the ruling Zanu-PF party by 36 votes to 22 when many government law-makers were absent from the house.

In London, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that he would urge the Commonwealth to suspend Zimbabwe if political violence worsens.

'Gone home'

The European Union has threatened to impose targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe's leaders unless it is allowed to monitor the elections.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa says the defeated measures will be brought back to parliament, along with the remaining two bills - which tighten media controls and give extra powers to the police - later this month.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai: A fair chance of beating Mugabe in a free and fair poll

Zanu-PF has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

By law, a bill rejected by parliament cannot be reintroduced in the same session.

The government had intended to fast-track all three bills through parliament on Tuesday but debate on the two high-profile pieces of legislation was postponed when it became clear that there was not enough time.

It is not clear whether some Zanu-PF MPs then boycotted the vote on the third bill because they were unhappy with the new measures or whether they had simply gone home when the main business was postponed.

Mr Chinamasa accused the MDC of "treachery", saying they had agreed to support the bill.

Election date

The opposition benches erupted into applause when the results were announced, reports the French news agency, AFP.

"Psychologically, it gave us a boost, especially as it was one of the bills that had been seeking to disenfranchise many of our supporters," the MDC's parliamentary leader Gibson Sibanda told AFP.


If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth

Jack Straw

Mr Mugabe is facing the toughest challenge to his presidency since he came to office in 1980 from Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

Under the constitution, the government has to announce a date for the elections by 13 January.

Zimbabwe's journalists say the media bill is draconian and have said they will ignore it.

The new law would ban foreign journalists from Zimbabwe and local journalists would need government accreditation, renewable every 12 months.

'Preposterous'

Tough jail terms are threatened, as are hefty fines, for journalists publishing news "likely to cause alarm and despondency".

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said it would stop lies being told by foreign correspondents about the situation in Zimbabwe.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo
Moyo will decide which media journalists can write for

The BBC has been banned from Zimbabwe and few foreign correspondents are being given work permits.

< The Public Order and Security Bill makes it an offence to criticise the president, which observers say would make life intolerable for the opposition during an election campaign.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called some of the new measures "preposterous".

"If the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, Britain will argue for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in March," he said on Tuesday.

The meeting is due to take place in Australia.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Fish
"The opposition hailed a rare, if temporary victory"
Zimbabwe Government Minister Patrick Chinamasa
"I intend to bring the matter back to parliament"
Priscilla Misihairabwi of the opposition MDC
"They are refusing to accept the procedures and sovereignty of parliament"
See also:

08 Jan 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's controversial bills
20 Dec 01 | Africa
Double setback for Mugabe
18 Dec 01 | Africa
Neighbours back Mugabe
10 Sep 01 | Africa
Does South Africa hold the key?
14 Dec 01 | Africa
Police free Mugabe opponent
05 Dec 01 | Africa
Sanctions loom for Mugabe
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