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President Mugabe, Headed for UN, Signs Disputed 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 word that President Robert Mugabe had meanwhile signed into law a controversial bill amending the constitution to nationalize all farmland and empower the government to restrict foreign travel.

Zimbabwe state radio said Mr. Mugabe signed the legislation Friday, the day he left for a state 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 lobbied IMF executive directors in Washington for a debt 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 controversial legislation also reinstitutes a Zimbabwean upper house of 65 members.

Opposition parliamentarian David Coltart, spokesman on legal issues 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 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...