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Zimbabwe Government In Crisis Meeting With Business Leaders Over Prices

Members of Zimbabwe's cabinet grappling with runaway inflation summoned business managers from across all sectors of the economy late Wednesday for an emergency meeting to discuss Harare's ongoing offensive against rising prices.

National Chamber of Commerce President Marah Hativagone told VOA that business representatives intended to tell the cabinet task force on price stability that Harare has to make more foreign currency available so businesses can continue operating.

However, government sources said officials including Minister Without Portfolio Elliot Manyika, acting task force chair in the absence of Industry Minister Obert Mpofu, were to tell business leaders there is no turning back and that all businesses that close or reduce production will be nationalized and operated by the government.

The meeting was still in progress late Wednesday evening.

The state crackdown on retailers dubbed "Operation Dzikamai," or "Be Calm" in the majority Shona language, continued in the capital and other cities and towns as state agents led by officers of the feared Central Intelligence Organization roughed up shop owners and staff and ordered them to reduce prices on the spot.

Bata, the country's leading shoe manufacturer and retailer, was forced to cut prices Wednesday, causing a stampede in shops as consumers sought cut-rate footwear..

There was also pandemonium at Muhammed Moussa Wholesalers, where, charged angry consumers, members of the police, army and other forces dispersed them only to move in to buy the commodities they had forced the owners to discount.

Similar disturbances were witnessed in the Harare township of Warren Park's Mereki Shopping Center where butcher shops were forced to reduce prices and consumers bought all the available meat, up which the owners closed their doors.

Consumers said they see the future as uncertain and are stocking up on food.

Highfield resident Nathan Moyo told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that most grocery shops in his neighborhood are empty. He added that Montana Meat Butcheries had closed its shops around the capital.

Police in Bulawayo, meanwhile, defied a prosecutor’s order not to force a gas station to halve its gas prices, causing near -pandemonium at the service station owned by Abednico Bhebhe, a spokesman for the opposition faction of Arthur Mutambara.

Bulawayo lawyer Josphat Tshuma, representing Bhebhe, told reporter Chris Gande that local prosecutors refused to pursue the charges lodged by the police.

Meanwhile, some companies have started to pay workers on a weekly basis rather than once a month in order to cushion the impact of hyperinflation. Weekly pay allows workers to buy essential goods before the value of the currency plunges further.

Deputy Secretary General Japhet Moyo of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said such arrangements are being made in particular for lower-paid workers who are most hurt by the erosion of purchasing power. He said some workers are being paid in kind with food or goods which they can then barter for what they need.

Moyo told reporter Patience Rusere that workers in some sectors are demanding to be paid on a daily basis because prices can spiral beyond reach in a week.

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