Thursday, March 01, 2007

Official says Zim hungry and broke


HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Dozens of people were arrested Wednesday as pro-democracy activists defied a police ban on demonstrations and took to the streets to protest growing repression and economic hardship in Zimbabwe. The demonstration coincided with a bleak new warning by the head of the Zimbabwe state central bank that the nation is broke and using foreign currency needed for fuel and spare parts on food.

The National Constitutional Assembly said it had marched in Harare and the cities of Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo and Gweru. Police had arrested 50 demonstrators in Harare and 25 in Mutare, it said.

"Police brutality against demonstrators is a clear sign that we are living in a military state where freedom of expression and association is not respected," the group said in a statement.

It vowed to continue with the demonstrations....

Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono told a panel of lawmakers that his priority was to allocate hard currency for imports of corn, the staple, to avert a looming food crisis. Currency was diverted from almost every government department to buy food, he conceded.

Many black farmers, including politicians, who resettled on former white-owned farms were failing to produce food, Gono said. Zimbabwe was once the region's breadbasket.

"There are some people who have become professional land occupiers, vandalizing equipment and moving from one farm to another," Gono told a parliamentary committee on Home Affairs, according to the daily Herald, a government mouthpiece.

Under President Robert Mugabe's land reform program, at least 5,000 white-owned farms have been seized with virtually no compensation since 2000. Many are derelict....

As many as 3 million Zimbabweans are in neighboring South Africa seeking work and asylum. A Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday said South African officials involved in the arrest and deportation of undocumented migrant workers often assault and extort money from them, and that Zimbabweans and Mozambicans were most at risk of deportation and abuse.

A reported 80,000 Zimbabweans were deported in the last seven months of 2006. South African authorities have said they were trying to clamp down on corrupt officials who extort bribes.

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