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Zimbabwe Opposition: Mugabe's Price Cuts Mask Deeper Economic Problems

Zimbabwe's opposition leader says President Robert Mugabe's government slashed prices of food, fuel and other goods to divert attention from the country's economic crisis.

Authorities in Harare say steep price cuts they ordered last month will reduce the record inflation rate, but the move has instead triggered shortages of basic foods and other necessities. Shop owners say their costs are much higher than the prices they can charge, so they are not restocking their shelves.

Economists predict inflation will rise further as consumers resort to paying extreme black-market prices for everyday needs such as cornmeal, cooking oil and sugar.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main faction in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, says the price cuts conceal Zimbabwe's continuing economic collapse. As shopping becomes more and more difficult, he warns, public attention may be distracted from political misconduct in advance of next year's presidential election.

Tsvangirai was speaking to supporters Sunday at a rally south of the capital.

His MDC coalition is threatening to boycott the presidential vote in March unless a free and fair vote is guaranteed. Many opposition members say they expect the ruling ZANU-PF party will try to rig voter registration lists to assure the 83-year-old president a sixth term in office.

Mr. Mugabe says Zimbabwe's long-running political and economic crisis has been caused by sanctions that Britain and the United States imposed on his government.