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Zimbabwe Moves to Restrict Land Rights

From Associated Press

Lawmakers approved sweeping constitutional changes Tuesday that sharply restrict property rights and allow the Zimbabwean government to deny passports to its critics.

Ruling party representatives danced and cheered after parliament voted 103 to 29 to endorse the constitutional overhaul. Prominent lawyers, however, have called the changes the greatest challenge yet to Zimbabwean civil liberties.

The 22-clause amendment bill now goes to President Robert Mugabe to be signed into law.

The slate of amendments, the 17th since independence from Britain in 1980, strips landowners of their right to appeal expropriation and declares that all real estate is on a 99-year lease from the government.

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Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the amendments would stop 5,000 evicted white farmers from frustrating land redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

“It will close the chapter of colonization,” Chinamasa said during a stormy half-hour debate that preceded the vote.

The bill would also give the government authority to deny passports if doing so is deemed in the national interest.

“This will take away the right of those people to go outside the country and ask other countries to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe,” Chinamasa said.

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The overhaul also calls for a new 66-seat Senate to be formed, which critics charge the ruling party would use to increase its patronage powers.

Lovemore Madhuku, whose National Constitutional Assembly reform alliance mobilized opposition to Mugabe’s attempt in 2000 to entrench his rule indefinitely, said the amendments added to a series of repressive measures imposed by Mugabe’s 25-year-old regime.

“But in time, it will eventually collapse,” he said.


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