Zimbabwe Lops Off 10 Zeros

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- In a sign of Zimbabwe's dire financial crisis, the reserve bank announced Wednesday that it was knocking 10 zeros off the country's hyper-inflated currency -- a move that turns 10 billion dollars into one.

President Robert Mugabe went on national television, threatening to impose a state of emergency if businesses profiteered from the country's woes.

Shop shelves are empty and there are chronic shortages of everything including medication, food, fuel, power and water. Eighty percent of the work force is unemployed, and many who do have jobs don't earn enough to pay for bus fare.

One third of Zimbabweans have become economic and political refugees. Another third is dependent on foreign food aid. But Mugabe barred nongovernmental organizations from handing out food last month, claiming that they were supporting the opposition.

On Wednesday, central bank governor Gideon Gono announced that he was dropping 10 zeros from the currency, effective Friday. That comes a week after he introduced a 100 billion-dollar note that was not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

Gono said new money would be launched Friday with 500-dollar bills. He also said he was reintroducing coins, which have been obsolete for years.