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Zimbabwe Parties Bitterly Divided After Amendment Vote

Legislation passed by Zimbabwe’s ruling party amending the constitution to expand state powers and curtail civil liberties continued to elicit sharp criticism Wednesday from the political opposition, human rights organizations and civil society.

Critics say the amendment legislation awaiting President Robert Mugabe’s signature represents a tightening of control by the president and his ruling ZANU-PF party, and a further step towards authoritarianism amidst a deepening national crisis.

The amendments nationalize all farmland leaving its former owners no legal recourse, disenfranchise voters of foreign descent and allow the government to confiscate the passports of those it believes will speak against the national interest abroad.

Another constitutional amendment will reestablish the Zimbabwean senate.

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association Director Munyaradzi Bidi told Reuters that the bill “completes the cycle of repression.”

One particular focus of outrage is an amendment allowing the government to seize the passports of individuals if it considers they are likely to make statements abroad that are damaging to the country's national interest. Members of the opposition say the government will use this to prevent them from seeking international support for democratic reforms and making known complaints of human rights abuses.

Another amendment deprives landowners of the right to seek relief in the courts if their property is taken under the land reform program launched in the late 1990s.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga who said the amendments are necessary and justified.

One official of the Movement for Democratic Change described the amendment bill as “an act of madness and an exercise in futility.”

Yet some opposition parliamentarians were absent Tuesday when the bill passed by a vote of 103 to 29.

Reporter Zulu spoke with the MDC member of parliament for Harare East, Tendai Biti, who is the party’s secretary for economic affairs, about why the opposition did not turn out in force for the vote, and other aspects of the amendment battle.

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