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Zimbabwe Authorities Force Price of Bread Down

In Zimbabwe, officials have begun monitoring the price of bread after bakers raised the price without government approval.

The price of a standard loaf of bread has gone up dramatically in Zimbabwe, from 80 U.S. cents last week to more than $1.30 this week. Bakers justify the hike by saying the cost of just about everything needed to make bread has gone up.

An official of the bakers' association told VOA, on condition of anonymity, that selling bread at the government approved price - 34 U.S. cents a loaf - is unsustainable. Bakers have ignored the official price for months now and, other than making threats to arrest them, the government has done nothing. The official said bakers have been applying for bread price reviews since last year, but the government has not responded. He blamed Zimbabwe's hyper-inflationary environment for the increase. Inflation stands at more than 1200 percent, the highest in the world.

But the latest price hike has prompted the government to take action. An executive at one of Zimbabwe's leading bakeries was arrested Saturday and only released on Monday. The official at the bakers' association says some senior members of the association have gone into hiding for fear of arrest.

The official state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, quoted a police spokesperson as saying more than 200 plainclothes policeman have been deployed to monitor prices and arrest those who raise them beyond government-approved levels. The paper reported that basics such as sugar, milk, cooking oil and the staple corn meal, whose prices were also increased without government approval, are still selling at the new prices.

Some bakers circumvent government-controlled prices by making fancy loaves and rolls, whose prices are not controlled. But the majority of Zimbabweans cannot afford these. An estimated 80 percent of the country's workforce is unemployed and the majority of those with jobs earn salaries way below the poverty line.