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Zimbabwe claims its accounts are bare, needs donations to hold elections

Zimbabwe's finance ministry says it has just $217 left in its accounts after paying the nation's civil servants and government employees earlier this month.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the monthly salaries cleared out government earnings and tax revenues in January when he made an appeal Tuesday for foreign donors to help raise some $200 million for a constitutional referendum and elections later this year.

But financial experts said Wednesday that Biti, known for his exaggerated rhetoric in the troubled economy, failed to mention quick returns from income tax, social security payments and increased taxable spending in shops and stores.

The government is the nation's biggest employer - with a work force of up to 300,000 - and salaries routinely account for more than 70 percent of its monthly spending.