/ 16 July 2008

Mugabe lashes out at UK as inflation soars

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday accused Britain of trying to seize control of resources in the devastated African nation.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday accused Britain of trying to seize control of resources in the devastated African nation, as his government announced inflation had risen to 2,2-million percent.

Re-elected last month in a widely condemned vote boycotted by the opposition, Mugabe regularly blames his country’s economic collapse on former colonial ruler Britain and accuses it of plotting to overthrow his government.

The 84-year-old leader, in power for 28 years, has branded the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) a British and American puppet.

”What is Zimbabwe to Britain? The answer has not been provided, but we know what they want. It’s regime change, so the resources of our country can come under their control,” Mugabe said at the televised launch of a food subsidy programme.

Zimbabweans are suffering chronic shortages of meat, maize, fuel and other basic commodities due to the collapse of the once-prosperous economy, which critics blame on Mugabe’s policies, including his violent seizure of white-owned farms.

Central bank Governor Gideon Gono announced on Wednesday that inflation had surpassed two million percent, a figure already calculated by economists, some of whom now put it much higher.

Officials in February calculated Zimbabwe inflation at 164 900%, already the highest in the world.

The worsening economy could add to pressure on the ruling Zanu-PF party to make concessions to the MDC, which refused to recognise Mugabe’s victory in the June 27 presidential run-off.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the March 29 first round election but was short of an absolute majority. He pulled out of the second round, citing violence by pro-Mugabe militia.

The MDC says 120 supporters have been killed since March. Mugabe blames the opposition for the bloodshed.

At the urging of African nations, the MDC and Zanu-PF began preliminary negotiations talks last week under South African mediation to seek a framework for more substantial talks on a government of national unity, seen as the only way to avert further violence and a total meltdown of the economy.

The talks have made no progress. Tsvangirai demands Mugabe recognise his victory in the March poll and halts violence. Mugabe insists the opposition accept his re-election.

Inflation dragon
Mugabe’s efforts to stop hyperinflation and prevent the devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar have been a dismal failure.

His government imposed a draconian price freeze last year in a bid to ease the plight of consumers, prompting stores to stop restocking their shelves. The move worsened shortages of basic items for millions of Zimbabweans.

The central bank also introduced a new dollar, forcing people to exchange their old notes in a process rife with corruption. The currency trades at 300-billion to the US dollar on the black market, over 10 times the official rate.

Mugabe said on Wednesday that the new food subsidy programme, which will issue coupons to buy food, was part of a renewed bid to tackle inflation and control pricing practices.

”The government is broadening its fight against the inflation dragon, as well as amply demonstrating to the private sector that those who do not cooperate risk pricing themselves completely out of the market,” he said.

It was ”a strong message to the corporate sector that the era of unjust price increases has come to an end”. — Reuters