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Zimbabwe Arrests Thousands in Crackdown on Street Vendors

A customer buys an orange from a vendor, right, in central Harare while waiting in a bank queue, background
Zimbabwean police have arrested nearly 10,000 people in a crackdown on street vendors in the country's main cities and towns.

In addition to the arrests, police have also seized the vendors' wares and other goods. Reports from Harare say these include cash, travelers checks, and foreign currency.

The police say the the purpose of the crackdown is to flush out criminals and bring a halt to black marketeering, and building illegal structures. Many of the vendors have built shanties on open ground in which they also live.

The police action prompted anger and frustration among the vendors who complained that they have no other way to earn an honest living. The jobless rate in Zimbabwe is 70 percent and the economy has shrunk by more than 30 percent during the past seven years.

Last year, the International Monetary Fund said the economic collapse was a result of flawed policies that weakened the country's economic base. This was compounded by the chaotic and sometimes violent land-reform program, which greatly reduced production in the key agricultural sector.

The resulting decline in both national and international confidence discouraged investment, and prompted capital flight and emigration.

Last weekend police intervened to break up protests against the government crackdown on street business. Police and paramilitary units are now patrolling the capital and preventing minibus taxis from entering the city, saying they intended to prevent further protests.

The crackdown against street vendors comes at a time when many Zimbabweans feel threatened by an influx of Chinese traders who came to the country following a decision by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to focus the country's foreign policy toward Asia.