Zimbabwe votes for final steps to seize white farms

Ruling party representatives celebrated after Parliament voted 103 to 29 to endorse the constitutional overhaul that sharply restricts property rights and allows the government to deny passports to its critics. The 22-clause Constitutional Amendment Bill now goes to President Robert Mugabe to sign into law.

The slate of amendments, the 17th since independence from Britain in 1980, abolishes freehold property titles and strips landowners of their right to appeal against expropriation.

The Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said this would stop 5,000 evicted white farmers from frustrating land redistribution to black Zimbabweans. "It will close the chapter of colonisation," he added.

The Bill also gives the government authority to deny passports if it 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," Mr Chinamasa said. He is among 200 of Mr Mugabe's elite barred from travelling or owning bank accounts in the US and EU countries.

A new 66-seat Senate will be formed. Lovemore Madhuku, whose National Constitutional Assembly reform alliance mobilised opposition to Mr Mugabe's attempt in 2000 to entrench his rule indefinitely, said: "I think [Mr Mugabe] is likely to sign the bill into law in the fastest possible time, even within four days or so. He wants to have elections for the Senate by October."

Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party controls 107 of Parliament's 150 seats, more than the two-thirds which is needed to change the constitution. The opposition says that approval of the amendments will destroy any hope of agreement with Western donors for desperately needed aid. A total of four million people face starvation in what was once a nation of productive farmers.

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