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With Prices Steadily Rising, Zimbabwean Authorities Arrest Executives

Zimbabwean authorities have been cracking down again on what they allege is price gouging by businesses, arresting two company executives this week.

General Manager David Muchinguri of Bakers Inn was arrested on charges his firm was charging more than authorized by the state for bread and Shaazard Shaukat of Kevaree Investments was arrested on charges of overpricing cement.

Bread is supposed to cost Z$6 million a loaf, but is selling for up to $15 million on the parallel market, where it is more readily available than in stores.

Zimbabwean bakers met with the National Incomes and Pricing Commission Tuesday to seek a reprieve. The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, meanwhile, called on businesses to exercise extreme restraint to avoid further executive arrests.

Economist Prosper Chitambara, currently based at Birmingham University, England, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the latest moves by the government reflect desperation with an election on the near horizon.

Soaring prices of basic commodities and food shortages in urban and rural areas have intensified in recent weeks, meanwhile, leaving many families facing hunger.

President Robert Mugabe, seeking re-election on March 29, announced last week that Harare is urgently importing 530 metric tonnes of maize from Malawi, South Africa and Zambia. But consumers say shortages are worsening by the day.

Bulawayo resident Mandlenkosi Gatsheni told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that most Zimbabweans are literally living from hand to mouth these days.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...