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Zimbabwe's President Signs Controversial Constitutional Amendments into Law

President Robert Mugabe has signed into law several constitutional amendments restricting freedom of movement and property rights and creating a Senate that critics say will help tighten his grip on power. The president announced the signing in a speech to students in Cuba.

Without much fanfare, Mr. Mugabe signed the controversial constitutional amendments Friday, shortly before his departure for Cuba and the day the International Monetary Fund (IMF) decided to postpone for six months a decision on whether to expel Zimbabwe.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe and a number of other civic groups had opposed the amendments. Arnold Tsunga, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said Monday his organization and others were hoping that Mr. Mugabe would yield to critics at home and abroad and would not sign the amendments into law. Zimbabwe's parliament, controlled by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, passed the amendments last month.

Mr. Tsunga said the signing of the amendments was a "bleak day for Zimbabwe."

The amendments, among other things, nationalize Zimbabwe's farmland and deprive landowners of the right to challenge in courts the government's decision to expropriate their land. It also authorizes the government to deny passports to people whose travel abroad would not be deemed in "national interest." Human rights advocates say this measure is aimed at preventing critics of Mr. Mugabe from going abroad and speaking out against his regime.

Another amendment will create a second legislative chamber, the senate, that many Zimbabweans fear will be packed with Mr. Mugabe's allies.

Last Friday the International Monetary Fund gave Zimbabwe another six months to pay off its debt or risk expulsion. Zimbabwe surprised many when it produced $131 million to pay the IMF a portion of its debt.

Financial sources told VOA at least some of the money paid to the IMF came from exporters' foreign currency accounts and left the companies short of funds to operate.