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Zimbabwe Moves to Change Constitution

President Robert Mugabe's government is proposing to change the constitution to legalize confiscation of farmland and restrictions on the travel of government opponents.

Justice Minster Patrick Chinamasa described the constitutional amendments, which went to parliament Thursday, as "epoch making" and "historic." Among the amendments are provisions that would prevent farmers whose land has been seized by the government from contesting the action in court.

Over the past five years, more than 6,000 white-owned farms have been seized by the government under President Robert Mugabe's land reform program. Most white farmers whose land, equipment and homesteads were seized went to the courts to seek redress for the loss of their property.

Mr. Chinamasa told parliament the courts had been able to process less than a fifth of the farms seized, and that white farmers' objections to losing their properties had been "vexatious and frivolous."

Mr. Chinamasa told parliament that Britain, as the former colonial power, has the "sole responsibility" for paying compensation for the land.

The justice minister and most of his colleagues in the ruling ZANU-PF party in parliament have been given white-owned farms, most of which are now lying fallow, according to recent government crop statistics.

Another controversial amendment would allow the government to refuse to issue passports to citizens or to revoke their travel documents, in what he described as "the national interest." Civil rights groups have strongly objected on the grounds the proposal is designed to muzzle free speech of opponents. Many Zimbabwean lawyers say the travel prohibition makes a mockery of Zimbabwe's claim to be a democracy.

Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has the requisite two-thirds majority in parliament it needs to change the constitution.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says the government plans to fast-track these constitutional amendments to conclusion next Thursday.