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Riots Break Out as Zimbabwe Faces Cholera Epidemic, Hyperinflation

BY Admin  December 3, 2008 at 4:00 PM EST

Zimbabwe army member walks past looted shop; AP

The central bank announced plans to issue bank notes in higher denominations and increase the availability of money. Still, long lines formed outside banks as residents rushed to withdraw money. Police tried to break up the lines and prevent union members from marching to the central bank.

The new notes will be in $10 million, $50 million and $100 million denominations and will go into circulation on Thursday, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. The bank also increased the cash withdrawal limit for individuals from $500,000 to $100 million.

Zimbabwe suffers from the world’s highest inflation rate which stood officially at 231 million percent in October, drastically up from 11.2 million percent in July, the United Nations reported.

A loaf of bread in the country costs about $2 million, equal to about $1 in the United States, according to CNN.

The health workers protested outside the health ministry demanding better pay and conditions as they try to fight the cholera crisis. The United Nations put the death toll at 565 while the ministry of health reported 484 since August.

Cholera spreads through contaminated water and food. A World Health Organization report said that, “recent interruptions to the water supplies, together with overcrowding, are aggravating factors in this epidemic.”

Zimbabwe’s residents face daily food shortages and many hospitals lack the drugs and medicine to remain in operation.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority has said it will work to correct the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Water was turned off for three days after authorities ran out of purifying chemicals but was restored to some parts of Harare on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

The European Commission and the International Red Cross are providing aid to combat the epidemic and the government is cooperating with international organizations.

Some Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa for treatment. Reports of cholera cases were recorded in neighboring countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.

On Monday, groups of unarmed soldiers in military gear stole cash from vendors and illegal currency traders in Harare as they fought with riot police after they were unable to withdraw money from the bank. The government reacted strongly, calling them “rogue soldiers” and warning them in the the Herald that those found guilty would be brought to justice.

A senior army official quoted by IRIN dismissed the dissent among the soldiers saying they were among the “lowest ranks” in the military.

“The junior soldiers are angry that very senior officers are stealing money meant to pay the salaries for the soldiers. The economic hardships felt by the soldiers has made many of them very desperate, to the point of robbing civilians,” the official said.

President Mugabe relies heavily on the army’s defense forces for support and the fact that soldiers are resorting to robbery shows signs of how deeply the economic crisis is affecting the country, said Steven Friedman, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.

“I think they’ve got every cause to be worried completely … if they can’t take the troops with them, they are really in trouble. And if this is a start of some kind of a rebellion by the troops then we could see change in Zimbabwe a lot quicker than it seemed likely a while ago,” said Friedman, as quoted by Reuters.

The country has remained locked in a power-sharing negotiations since elections in March between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.