UN arrives to aid Zimbabwe

THE United Nations envoy Joaquim Chissano arrived in Zimbabwe for talks with the president, Robert Mugabe, yesterday, as the country plunged deeper into economic crisis, with mass arrests of black-market traders, long lines for petrol and stampedes for scarce food like sugar.

Mr Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, was due to hold discussions with Mr Mugabe on proposed UN reforms, according to Zimbabwe state radio.

The meeting was also expected to touch on growing food shortages in Zimbabwe, which used to be the "bread basket" of southern Africa.

James Morris, head of the World Food Programme, is due to visit the country, which has an estimated five million people in urgent need of food aid, next week.

Before parliamentary elections in March, Mr Mugabe insisted that the country had a "bumper harvest" of maize and would be self-sufficient in food. But shortly after the poll - won by the ruling Zanu-PF party with a huge majority amid allegations of the use of food as a political weapon to secure votes - the government said it would have to import 1.2 million tonnes of maize.

Reports from the city of Bulawayo said two women with babies on their backs were injured on Wednesday when shoppers stampeded for sugar, not seen in stores for many weeks.

Long lines also formed for bread, wheat flour and maize meal, the staple diet of Zimbabwe's 11.6 million people.

At a filling station in Harare owned by a government minister, motorists who had waited two days for petrol became angry when stocks ran out after preference was given to a last-minute "VIP" line of limousines, off-road vehicles and soldiers in private cars. The resulting near-riot caused gridlock on a major road.

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