Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, has slashed its staff by more than two-thirds, diminishing hopes that the popular newspaper will be published again.

The Daily News laid off more than two-thirds of its staff, saying it could no longer afford to keep them on the payroll.

The newspaper's editor, Nqobile Nyathi, said a core staff of about 40 to 50 employees, including some journalists, will be kept on just in case the paper wins a court case to resume publishing.

Legal analysts and human rights lawyers say they believe the government's controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which places journalists under strict government control, was enacted with one object in mind - to close the Daily News.

Since it was founded four years ago, The Daily News has been often critical of President Robert Mugabe's administration and exposed many scandals involving senior ruling Zanu PF party leaders. It was also critical of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Scores of its journalists and other workers were arrested during its short life, thousands of copies were regularly destroyed in areas outside of two main cities, its printing press was destroyed by bombs and its founding editor Geoff Nyarota was forced to flee Zimbabwe.

The countdown to its closure began with the press laws two years ago, which required all journalists and media outlets to obtain a license. The newspaper contested the law in courts, but lost. The government-appointed commission denied The Daily News a license to operate and shut it down last September.

A hearing in court litigation to get the newspaper back on the newsstands is to be held on March 3, but, following a string of legal setbacks, lawyers are giving the Daily News little hope for winning.