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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Zimbabwe to speed up land seizure
A black farmer in Zimbabwe tills the land
Legal battles have slowed down the transfer of land to new farmers
Zimbabwe's government has tabled a constitutional amendment bill to speed up the acquisition of white-owned land.

The proposals would nationalise all land and stop appeals to the courts.

Some 4,000 white farmers have been evicted from their land since 2000, but the government says legal battles are slowing up the transfer of ownership.

President Robert Mugabe's party gained the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed for constitutional change in March's disputed elections.

Passport confiscation

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who introduced the bill to parliament, told the AFP news agency that the legislation would "conclude the land question".

We need fundamental economic changes
Aziz Pahad
South Africa's deputy foreign minister

Other proposed constitutional amendments include the creation of an upper house of parliament, the senate and bringing all schools under state control.

Authorities would also be able to confiscate passports and impose travel bans on people thought to pose a risk to state interests.

Earlier on Thursday, nine opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MPs marched through the capital, Harare, protesting about the amendments, in defiance of a government ban.

Police warned members of the public not to join in, Associated Press reports.

"Laws which deprive one of their passport are only found in countries like North Korea," MDC MP David Coltart said, calling the proposed legislation "draconian and retrogressive".

Broke

Zimbabwe is beset with shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency, and rampant unemployment and inflation.

Man with food aid
Some 4m Zimbabweans need food aid

The country needs $300m to repay its debts or it faces expulsion from the IMF.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki has indicated that he would be inclined to help out.

But earlier this week his deputy foreign minister said South Africa wanted to see economic reforms including getting agricultural productivity back on track.

"We are negotiating in the... broad context that we need fundamental economic changes," Aziz Pahad said.

According to economist John Robertson, the land seizures have cost Zimbabwe's government $1.2bn in tobacco production and exports.

Government critics blame Zimbabwe's economic problems on the land reform programme.

The government blames food shortages on drought and economic sabotage by Western countries, led by the UK, opposed to land reform.




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Farm workers in Zimbabwe describe how they are out of work and hungry



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