Belarus prepares for currency changes

A man holding the new denominations of banknotes Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The days of 200,000-rouble notes are numbered, with smaller denominations in place from Friday

Belarusians are preparing for a major change in the way they handle money, with coins being brought back into circulation as part of a currency redenomination.

For years coins have been issued purely as collectors' items in Belarus, as rampant inflation has made small change redundant - the exchange rate currently stands at 20,000 roubles to the dollar. But from 1 July, existing banknotes will be replaced by a new mixture of coins and notes, all with much smaller denominations.

Under the new system, Belarusians will use notes valued between five and 500 roubles, and a range of lesser-value kopek coins. It means that if something cost 21,700 roubles under the old system, Belarusians will now hand over two roubles and 17 kopeks, the US-funded Radio Free Europe website explains.

Those struggling to get their heads around the change have a few months to work things out - the National Bank has said old and new banknotes will be in parallel circulation until the end of the year, and shops will have to show both prices. From the start of 2017, people will have to exchange their old notes for the new versions.

But the switchover is causing a few concerns, not least that tills aren't configured to work with the decimals required by the small kopek denominations. The national post office says its counters won't be able to serve customers on 1 July, and some retailers are warning that bank cards might not work for a day either side of the change. Banks are also advising customers that cash machines could be out of action.

A Belarus-based economist tells Radio Free Europe that the change will do little to stop inflation, and is merely symbolic. But in the capital, Minsk, one resident sees a positive, saying: "I am satisfied that at last we will have normal wallets - not wallets where, when you open them, you see millions in there."

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