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Zimbabwe thinks guns can repeal laws of economics

Section: Daily Dispatches

1,300 Arrested in Price Crackdown in Zimbabwe

By Godfrey Marawanyika
Agence France-Presse
via Yahoo News
Monday, July 9, 2007

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- More than 1,300 shop owners and business managers have been arrested in Zimbabwe as part of a crackdown on firms accused of flouting government-imposed price controls, police said Monday.

Most of the 1,328 bosses had been fined but the number also includes around two dozen company executives arrested since Friday who are due to appear before magistrates, said police spokesman Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka.

Among those who were taken into custody were executives from leading firms operating in Zimbabwe including the local franchise owner of the Nando's restaurant chain and the Spar supermarket company, the spokesman added.

"We will continue to arrest anyone who will defy the government imposed controls on basic food commodities," said Mandipaka.

"We will not stop until there is order in the business community," he added.

Zimbabwe's Industry Minister Obert Mpofu ordered businesses a fortnight ago to halve the prices of all goods and services in a bid to curb spiralling inflation but the edict has been widely ignored.

Many manufacturers say the government-set prices mean they cannot cover their costs and have stopped production, leading to widespread shortages of basics such as cooking oil and salt.

President Robert Mugabe, unable to stem the rise of what is the world's highest rate of inflation, warned last week that his government would seize and nationalise firms found to be profiteering.

The inflation rate was last announced surreptitiously in a newspaper report at 3,714 percent in April and is now believed to be well beyond 5,000 percent.

Mandipaka also revealed that police had thwarted a major plot to smuggle tobacco out of Zimbabwe across the border into South Africa where shop owners can expect to receive a much better price for their products than with the government-imposed prices in Zimbabwe.

"We have just busted a major syndicate that was trying to smuggle Remington Gold (a brand of cigarettes) that was hidden inside ironing boards," he said.

"We have so far recovered 17 of these ironing boards."

On Saturday opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai called the price controls and subsequent crackdown "crooked economics" and "an election gimmick" ahead of parliamentary and presidential polls due to be held next year.

While economists have warned that the price controls will only lead to further empty shelves, the move has won backing in rural areas.

State television broadcast footage in bulletins on Monday from the western farming area of Mhondoro of people who had been complaining that shops were still overcharging and had not slashed their prices.

Mugabe has portrayed critics of the pricing controls as nothing more than puppets of former colonial Britain who are determined to topple his regime.

"What we have seen is that some were growing greedy at the expense of the majority while some had been recruited by the British and agreed to cause turmoil," Mugabe said in a speech last Friday.

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