- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2008

HARARE, ZIMBABWE (AP) - Labor leaders called on Zimbabweans Thursday to demand more money for food and medication than they are allowed to take out of their bank accounts because of tight daily withdrawal limits.

The cost of basic medications amid a cholera outbreak that has claimed hundreds of lives in Zimbabwe has required the sick or their relatives to stand in line for several days to draw enough cash.

The labor leaders’ protest call also comes as the U.N. warns that more than 5 million people in the country face imminent starvation.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of us have died not because of anything other than the imposed cash withdrawal limits," said Lovemore Matombo, head of The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the country’s main labor federation.

Zimbabwe, engulfed in an economic and political collapse, has by far the world’s highest official inflation of 231 million percent.

The daily withdrawal limit of 500,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about $0.30) at the dominant black market exchange rate) does not buy a quarter of a scarce loaf of bread, according to the country’s main labor federation.

A 4-pound (2 kilogram) pack of sugar purchased in local money required four days in line at a bank or automated teller machine.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is calling on Zimbabweans to try and withdraw more than the 500,000 Zimbabwe dollar limit next Wednesday.

Matombo said the planned bank protests were not illegal under sweeping security laws that prohibit demonstrations without police clearance because "you don’t need permission to claim your own money."

Under hyperinflation, most businesses and shops refused to accept checks from workers whose wages were paid directly into bank accounts, Matombo said.

"Workers now have to beg for their money to buy medication, for transport and to pay rents" that often also exceeded their monthly earnings, he said.

In August, the central bank slashed 10 zeros from the local currency but a newspaper that cost 10 Zimbabwe dollars in the new denominations in August cost 700,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($45 cents; euro 35 cents) this week.

The state Herald newspaper acknowledged the zeros were back by publishing a guide to large electronic and written transactions involving quadrillions of Zimbabwe dollars showing 15 zeros, quintillions with 18 zeros and even decillions with 33 zeros used in massive deals on the Harare stock market.

President Robert Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, blames Western sanctions for the economic collapse. But critics point to his 2000 order that commercial farms be seized from whites. The often violent seizures disrupted the country’s agriculture-based economy.

Western sanctions targeting individuals and companies supporting Mugabe’s regime were tightened after disputed elections in March and June that led to a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and his opponents signed Sept. 15.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have so far failed to agree on the composition of a unity Cabinet.

On Wednesday, Mugabe left Harare to attend a United Nations conference in Dohar, Qatar, on "Financing for Development," state media reported Thursday.

Earlier this week, Mugabe reappointed central bank governor Gideon Gono for another five-year term at the Reserve Bank.

In an acceptance statement available Thursday, Gono vowed to rein in the bank’s "quasi-fiscal operations," its term for printing extra money and subsidizing state enterprises, measures seen as having fueled inflation and crashed the local currency.

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