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Zimbabwean Government Toughens Enforcement Of Price Controls

Zimbabwean security forces backed by the members of the ruling ZANU-PF party's youth militia on Friday stepped up a crackdown on businesses across the country to ensure their compliance with a government directive freezing prices.

Retail sector sources said state security agents were searching business premises for goods thought to have been removed from shelves by retailers reluctant to sell them at a loss after the Ministry of Trade ordered price reductions earlier in the week.

Police officers and members of the military were also reported to be cracking down on parallel foreign exchange market participants, arresting several alleged black market currency dealers at the Road Port regional bus terminal in downtown Harare.

Trade Minister Obert Mpofu extended the ban on price increases to property rentals.

Consumers said that while they welcome a freeze on prices, they are now facing an acute shortage of basic commodities such as maize meal, cooking oil and soap, which cannot be found except on the black market at prices higher than previously.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the National Chamber of Commerce expressed shock at the government's intensification of its price crackdown.

Officials of the two groups asked for a meeting with President Robert Mugabe next week to express their concern and to warn him that many business might be forced to shut their doors because of the losses entailed by the obligatory price cuts.

Former Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Chief Executive Farai Zizhou told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while state intervention in failing markets might be necessary, markets need leeway if they are to function.

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