Zimbabwe inflation data postponed 'indefinitely'

Zimbabwe’s state data agency on Wednesday postponed “indefinitely” the release of March inflation figures, which were expected to show prices in the shattered economy spiralling to another record high.

The country’s Central Statistical Office (CSO) had indicated it would release the politically-sensitive data on Wednesday, but a senior official told Reuters it was still compiling the numbers.

“We are postponing indefinitely ... we are still making further checks,” CSO acting director Moffat Nyoni said.

Soaring inflation has become a hallmark of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most prosperous and stable nations.

Inflation hit an annualised 1 729,9% in February, a record for the nation and the world’s highest rate, and analysts had expected an even worse figure for March.

President Robert Mugabe, under intensifying pressure to adopt political reforms to avert a mass uprising and financial meltdown, has made the battle against inflation the centrepiece of his government’s plan to reverse the economy’s slide.

The government has forecast inflation to slow to between 350% and 400% by the end of 2007, but the International Monetary Fund sees the figure touching 4 000% by year’s end.

Critics say Mugabe’s policies, particularly his seizure of thousands of white farms for redistribution to landless Africans, are to blame for the soaring inflation as well as the nation’s growing poverty, high unemployment and fuel and food shortages.

Implementation of the land redistribution programme has coincided with a sharp drop in agricultural production, forcing Zimbabwe to rely on imports of the staple maize to feed its people.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, insists the economy is being sabotaged by Western powers opposed to his land policy.

The economic crisis has exacerbated political tensions, especially in the poor townships around the capital Harare, a stronghold of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the main opposition party.

Police violently broke up a March 11 anti-Mugabe prayer rally in Harare, arresting MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and dozens of other opposition members. Reports of their beatings in police stations prompted sharp protests from Western nations.

Mugabe, who has branded the MDC a puppet of Western powers, accuses the opposition of launching petrol bomb attacks on police stations as part of a terrorist campaign to overthrow his government. - Reuters

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