Nearly 5,000 store owners, managers and business executives have been arrested since the government began its campaign to slash prices last month, state media reported Thursday.

The government ordered that prices be slashed by around 50 percent to curb inflation, officially at 4,500 percent but estimated to be twice as high.

Already scarce staple foods, gasoline and many basics have disappeared from shelves because store owners say they can't afford to sell at the new low prices.

The Herald newspaper said that at least 23 owners and managers of shops and gasoline stations had been arrested for overcharging Wednesday, bringing the total to 4,926.

A senior police official, Bothwell Mugariri, told the newspaper — a government mouthpiece — that the latest to be arrested were rounded up in Harare's central business district and would appear in court Friday.

Most of those arrested — among them several of the country's top businessmen — have been briefly jailed.

President Robert Mugabe told parliament Tuesday that his government was committed to its program to restore "price stability" and protect ordinary consumers from "inexplicable and astronomical" price increases by profiteers.

Foreign investment, loans and development aid to Zimbabwe have dried up amid years of political and economic turmoil after Mugabe's government began often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000.

Mugabe rejects criticism that the meltdown is the result of mismanagement and instead blames Western sanctions.