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Mugabe,Headed for UN, Signs Amendments Into Law

News that Zimbabwe had been granted a reprieve by the International Monetary Fund to settle its debt arrears was overshadowed Monday by the news that President Robert Mugabe had signed into law a controversial bill amending the constitution to nationalize farmland and empower the state to restrict foreign travel by citizens.

Zimbabwe state radio said Mr. Mugabe signed the legislation Friday, the day he left for a visit to Cuba en route to New York and a session of the United Nations General Assembly. Thus Mr. Mugabe signed the legislation even as his central bank chief was lobbying IMF executive directors in Washington for a debt payment grace period.

One amendment sweeps away the right of appeal by the owners of farmland taken over by the state since 2000 in its land redistribution program, and gives the state full powers to expropriate all agricultural land in the country without appeal by owners.

Another lets the state bar foreign travel by individuals it considers likely to damage national interests through comments made while abroad. Yet another disenfranchises voters of foreign extraction. The bill also reinstitutes a senate of 65 members.

Opposition parliamentarian David Coltart, legal issues spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change, noted that Mr. Mugabe’s signing of the bill was disclosed only after Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono won the IMF reprieve.

Mr. Coltart said the amendments in the bill are “contrary to what the IMF stands for.”

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa declined to comment on the bill signing in a brief interview with reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe.

Constitutional law expert Shadreck Gutto, chairman of African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa, said in an interview with Studio 7 that the amendments are mainly intended to strengthen Mr. Mugabe’s grip on power in Zimbabwe.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...