Zimbabwe: Riot Erupts Over Food, Transport Costs

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Nando Times

Riot erupts in Zimbabwe over food, transport costs

By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe (October 16, 2000 12:21 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Hundreds of Zimbabweans rampaged in the capital city of Harare on Monday, vandalizing shops and battling with police as anger over increased food and transport costs spilled into the streets.

Police fired tear gas at the protesters and beat some of them with riot sticks, witnesses said. Witnesses also heard gunshots. Several rioters were reportedly arrested.

Paramilitary police attempted to seal off the impoverished township suburb of Mabvuku, about 10 miles east from downtown Harare, but mobs threw up makeshift barricades of rocks and garbage to block police trucks approaching homes and shops.

Witnesses said police rounded up residents and forced them to remove some barricades, but new barricades were being erected in other parts of the township.

The rioters torched a bus and attacked shops with stones, state radio reported.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with inflation reaching a record 70 percent and unemployment exceeding 50 percent.

Rioters in Mabvuku, a stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said they were protesting hikes of up to 30 percent on the price of bread, sugar and soft drinks announced Oct. 10, the radio reported.

Bus and taxivan fares from the township into central Harare increased Monday from 50 cents to 56 cents.

The price hikes were the latest in a series of increases in the cost of gasoline, milk and corn meal - the staple food.

In 1997, five people died in food riots triggered by a 25 percent increase in the price of corn meal.

Shortages of hard currency in the troubled economy have led to shortages of gasoline. The price of kerosene, used mostly by the poor for lighting and cooking, rose by 100 percent last month.

Gasoline rose by more than 40 percent Sept. 1, pushing up bus fares and angering commuters in outlying Harare suburbs. Transport operators have increased fares gradually since then.

The crisis in the agriculture-based economy has been worsened by ruling party militants' illegal occupation of more than 1,700 white-owned farms.

The occupations have disrupted production of crops, including tobacco, the main hard currency earner.

President Robert Mugabe has backed the occupations, describing them as a justified protest against disproportionate ownership of farmland by a few thousand whites, mostly the descendants of British and South African colonial era settlers.

Last week, Mugabe also pardoned thousands of ruling party supporters accused of political violence surrounding polling in a constitutional referendum in February and parliamentary elections in June.

At least 32 people died in the violence and 10,000 were left homeless. Most of the victims were opposition supporters.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), October 16, 2000

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