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Wednesday October 18, 2000

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Rioters march in Zimbabwe streets

By The Associated Press

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Riots sparked by rising food prices spread yesterday as crowds stoned cars, trashed suburban shops and marched through the streets. Police fired tear gas in response and soldiers patrolled the poorest neighborhoods.

With Zimbabwe's economy in tatters, the government last week announced increases of up to 30 percent on bread, sugar and soft drink prices. Bus and taxi-van fares rose Monday. The new higher prices followed a series of increases in the cost of gasoline, milk and corn meal - a staple food in the country.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said police arrested 26 people after clashes early yesterday across the southern and western suburbs.

There were no reports of serious injuries. In rioting Monday, 25 people were arrested for public violence, he said.

Armored personnel carriers fanned out from an infantry barracks north of the capital. The troops were part of a so-called national reaction force and were sent only to "problem areas" in impoverished districts, Bvudzijena said.

Mobs trashed a police trailer used as a mobile command center in southern Harare, where two food stores were attacked and looted and cars were stoned.

Protesters in Harare's poor western suburb of Mufakose threw up barricades of rocks and lumber and hurled stones at riot police, witnesses said.

A military helicopter swooped overhead, apparently directing police operations and occasionally firing tear gas into cramped residential streets.

Police also fired tear gas to disperse a crowd marching toward Harare's largest bakery in the suburb of Mbare. A news crew from the state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. fled the suburb after rioters pelted their vehicle with stones, smashing the windows.

Police chief Augustine Chihuri, quoted by state radio, said security forces were placed on full alert yesterday and were taking stern measures to quell the unrest.

Witnesses in the eastern township of Tafara said troops were deployed there soon after dawn and began conducting house-to-house searches. Some residents were force at gunpoint to clear makeshift barricades blocking streets.

In Mufakose, witnesses said police used riot sticks and "sjamboks" - leather horse whips - to disperse rioters manning barricades.

"We have no jobs. We are hungry. We have nothing to eat. Yes, we are looting," said one youth who identified himself only as Ephraim.

Police spokesman Bvudzijena said mobs rampaged through a market at a bus depot, stealing food and vegetables.

Sporadic clashes erupted as police patrolled Harare's southern townships.

Rioters responded to price hikes Monday by rampaging through eastern Harare, looting a bread truck and food stores, attacking other shops with stones and torching a bus in the eastern suburb of Mabvuku. Mabvuku was quiet yesterday.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, with inflation reaching a record 70 percent and unemployment exceeding 50 percent.

The last food riots, triggered in 1997 by a 25 percent increase in the price of corn meal, left five people dead. President Robert Mugabe deployed troops to end civil unrest for the first time since independence.

The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said Monday it will call for mass protests to pressure Mugabe to resign. The party's 57 lawmakers also plan to call for Mugabe's impeachment.

Mugabe's ruling party controls 92 seats in the 150-seat Parliament. The opposition's impeachment motion is expected to take several days to be placed on Parliament's agenda.