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Last Updated: Monday, 23 May, 2005, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Major Zimbabwe police crackdown
Sugar vendor
Commodities like sugar can often only be found on the black market being sold at three times official prices
Almost 10,000 people have been arrested since Wednesday in a police operation in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Paramilitary units armed with batons and riot shields have been smashing up stalls of street traders as they target the huge informal sector.

"Police will leave no stone unturned in their endeavour to flush out economic saboteurs," Police Chief Superintendent Oliver Mandipaka told the state media.

The black market has thrived as jobless Zimbabweans struggle to make a living.

The country faces shortages of many basics like petrol, maize and toothpaste, and the head of the UN's emergency relief agency is visiting this week to discuss importing food aid.

The police chief said informal business operators had been arrested and fined for operating without licences or possessing scarce staple items such as maize meal, sugar and petrol intended for resale on the black market.

But many of the flea market traders selling second-hand goods have been licensed.

Police have destroyed 34 flea markets and netted some Z$900m ($100,000) in fines and seized some Z$2.2bn of goods.

Zimbabweans in Harare are said to be absolutely furious at the police operation codenamed "restore order".

Clash

Police are hoping to prevent a repeat of protests seen in the last few days by stopping city-bound commuter minibuses.

President Robert Mugabe
President Mugabe blames the West for the nation's economic crisis

Angry demonstrators clashed with police at the weekend in what AP news agency described as the most serious unrest seen since the ruling party won March parliamentary elections.

In recent days only a few government buses have been running, leaving thousands of commuters stranded.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said President Robert Mugabe was seeking an excuse to impose a State of Emergency and had ordered the crackdown to stop second-hand dealers undercutting cheap imports from China.

Similar operations are taking place in the cities of Gweru and Bulawayo.

The Zimbabwean dollar was devalued by 45% last week.


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