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Banned Zimbabwe newspaper gets set to rise from ashes

Harare: Once Zimbabwe's best-selling newspaper, The Daily News is getting ready to return to the stands after a long ban, even though its editors say the independent daily's troubles are far from over.

World Press Freedom Day was marked on Monday and Zimbabweans long for the return of the paper banned by President Robert Mugabe's government nearly two years ago for breaching media laws that rights activists say are among the most restrictive in Africa.

"Press freedom is in great peril in Zimbabwe, but we believe there will soon come a time when The Daily News will be back on the newsstands," said Deputy Editor Bill Saidi.

The newspaper was shut down on September 12 2003 when rifle-wielding police barged into its offices in Harare and ordered it shut for refusing to register with a state media commission.

The Daily News's 300 staffers, including 20 journalists, were left jobless and some meet occasionally in the one room that the newspaper now occupies in Harare's central business district to give one another solace.

In its heyday, The Daily News, which was founded in 1999, had a circulation of 150 000 and offered an alternative voice to the state media, even though sales were restricted to cities and major towns as vendors were often barred from travelling to rural areas to sell the tabloid with its distinctive white-on-blue banner.

Saidi said The Daily News would maintain the line that earned it the tag from government officials of "British-sponsored opposition newspaper" and often put its journalists on a collision course with Mugabe.

"We are satisfied our path was the correct one and we believe our readers were in favour of our stance. That is why we were selling better than The Herald," he said, referring to the state-run newspaper.

"When we get the licence we know we will continue to have the problems we had in the past with the flawed laws," Saidi said.

After years of legal battles, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court on March 14 quashed the government commission's decision to ban The Daily News and its sister paper The Daily News on Sunday.

The Daily News editors say they have been meeting government officials to discuss their application for a licence and the newspaper could be out again in coming weeks.

"Everyone is asking us when the newspaper is coming back to the streets," said vendor Shadreck Mbwera.

The Daily News took an uncompromising anti-government line, breaking stories on Mugabe's wife, Grace, who indulged in shopping sprees in South Africa while millions of Zimbabweans were suffering from food shortages.

It was also first to publish a report on the construction of Mugabe's luxury retirement mansion in Harare and on the murder of white farmers during the land seizures in 2000.

The newspaper gave voice to the country's civic society movement and opposition including the then fledgling Movement for Democratic Change.

Some information for this report provided by Sapa and AFP.