Mugabe promises relief to end Zimbabwe fuel crisis

Harare (dpa) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has told his ruling party that he expects the country's fuel supply to increase in the days and weeks ahead, newspapers reported Thursday.

Reports said the 81-year old leader made the pledge in remarks to hundreds of ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) supporters in the capital Harare on Wednesday.

"Fuel supply is expected to increase in the next few days and will gradually improve in the next few weeks," the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Mugabe as saying. He did not specify what measures were being taken to boost the fuel supplies.

Zimbabwe has been in the grip of its worst fuel crisis ever for the past severl months. The shortages have crippled urban transport and emergency services in major cities.

Bakeries are short of diesel to run ovens, and the national airline has been forced at times to postpone international flights due to a shortage of aviation fuel.

Farming experts have predicted another poor agricultural season due to the shortage of fuel needed for planting. They say shortages of fertilizer, seed and crop chemicals that stem from a lack of hard cash will worsen agricultural prospects

Despite this, Mugabe was upbeat about his country's prospects for food production, according to a report in the private Daily Mirror newspaper.

"If the rains come this year it will be a turning point in our history as we will be able to shame those detractors who say that we are unable to produce enough to feed our people," the paper quoted him as telling his supporters.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of food shortages. A recent heat wave broke on Wednesday with light rain in some parts of the country. Weather experts are predicting an above average rainy season this year.

However, farming experts have warned that Zimbabwe is unprepared for the coming agricultural season.

Once dubbed the breadbasket of southern Africa, Zimbabwe is now importing at least 15,000 tonnes of the staple maize a week and aid agencies predict more than a quarter of the country's 11.6 million people will require food aid by March next year. dpa rt ds


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