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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Zimbabwe tightens Mugabe's grip
President Robert Mugabe at the opening of Zimbabwe's parliament in June
President Mugabe will be able to appoint six of the 66 senators
Zimbabwe MPs have passed changes to the constitution to strengthen government control over land redistribution.

Another clause will allow President Robert Mugabe's government to confiscate passports of those deemed to pose a threat to national security.

Critics have condemned the proposals as an attack on fundamental rights.

The bill also reintroduces the Senate, which was abolished in 1987. Critics say this will allow the president to appoint more people to parliament.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the amendments would bring to a full circle Zimbabwe's war against British colonial rule

"This amendment will conclude the third chimurenga [liberation war] and the process of decolonisation," he said.

Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the opposition MDC, described the bill as " the rape of democracy."

Concerns

The bill has raised serious concerns among human rights groups and the political opposition, who are worried about how the draft puts certain actions of the government beyond the reach of the judiciary.

A black farmer in Zimbabwe tills the land
Legal battles have slowed down the transfer of land to new farmers

The government will now, for example, be able to expropriate land without being challenged in court.

This is being seen as a measure to smooth the government's programme of land redistribution from white farmers to the black majority.

One opposition MP raised the concern that vague wording meant it could affect someone growing cabbages in his back yard.

Another clause will give the government the right to withdraw passports or travel documents, again with no possibility of judicial appeal - opponents of the measure fear that it will be used to keep government critics on a tighter rein.

The changes also reintroduce the Senate, the upper house of parliament that was abolished in 1987.

The president will be able to appoint 6 of the 66 senators, in addition to the 30 MPs he already appoints to the lower house. President Robert Mugabe is expected to use this as an opportunity to bring back into parliament certain favoured former MPs and ministers who lost their parliamentary seats in the election earlier this year.

The Senate will also include 10 traditional chiefs, who tend to support Zanu-PF.

Property rights

The new bill also includes a proposal to bring private schools under state control.

President Mugabe has repeatedly changed the constitution during his 25 years as Zimbabwe's leader, but the latest changes are the most wide-ranging amendments ever put forward.

Most attention, though, has focused on the clause to deny the right of appeal to farmers whose land has been seized.

The government says it will conclude the land question.

The opposition says the move would further undermine property rights, deepening the country's economic crisis.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe has joined the criticism, condemning the proposals as an undisguised assault on the rights of citizens.

It concludes that the plans would seriously erode if not remove rights to property, protection of the law and freedom of movement.


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