Africa: Rioting in Harare as prices soar

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The Independent Online
The Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, yesterday called in the army as thousands looted and rioted in Harare in the country's worst civil unrest since independence.

The government gave soldiers orders to shoot looters as a second day of demonstrations against rises in food prices hit the capital. Protesters stripped offices, shops and petrol stations as, in scenes until recently almost as unthinkable in Harare as in Harrogate, helicopters bombarded them with teargas.

Many Zimbabweans insist that Mr Mugabe, and his government, complacent and corrupt after 18 unopposed years in power, are about to be toppled. Yesterday the capital was full of rumours that Mr Mugabe had already fled the country. But this proved premature.

Yesterday Dumiso Dabengwa, home affairs minister, said the government had no option but to use the army to restore order. But the arrival of the troops only highlighted the deterioriating situation in a country which once carried the hopes of Africa and until recently was a largely peaceful country.

Yesterday Iden Wetherell, assistant editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, which has been critical of the government, said "anarchy" had arrived. "The riots show a loss of control, the collapse of leadership of any sort," he said.

The President's fortunes began to plummet last summer when war veterans, who brought him to power, went on the rampage demanding long-overdue pension payments.

With the currency plummeting, the government was forced to raise taxes to pay the veterans. Ordinary Zimbabweans took to the streets in protest.

In order to rally the veterans, Mr Mugabe promised to confiscate 1400 white-owned farms and hand them over to landless peasants. This week it was claimed that his land grab programme had been effectively scuppered by new loan conditions imposed by the World Bank and the European Union. But the government has continued to blame whites for the political and economic crisis.

Although some demonstrators have chanted anti-white slogans, most Zimbabweans appear to lay the blame for the situation at Mr Mugabe's door.