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Zimbabweans brace for bleak holiday with rising poverty, unemployment, food and cash shortages

Zimbabweans say they are facing bleak holidays this year amid rising poverty, food and cash shortages and political uncertainty, with some describing it as the worst since the formation of the coalition government in this southern African nation.

President Robert Mugabe, in a four-year-old coalition with former opposition leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, announced an extra public holiday Monday that has created chaos for holiday shoppers and travelers. Banks have closed, ATMs have run out of cash and transport services have been paralyzed.

With unemployment at 80 percent, many Zimbabweans have little to celebrate. This caps a year of political uncertainty, a deadlock in constitutional reforms and calls for elections in coming months, seen as critical for Mugabe, 88, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.