News24

Mozambique cops open fire on protesters

2010-09-01 16:20

Maputo - Police opened fire on Wednesday on stone-throwing mobs who were protesting against rising prices, killing six people as the UN noted that international food prices have risen to their highest in two years - a level that could see unrest spread.

Police had declared the marches illegal, saying no group sought permission to hold them. Word had spread for days, in the former Portuguese colony in southeast Africa, that there would be demonstrations.

Thousands of people, mostly young men, turned out. They lined the streets of Bagamoyo, a crowded, impoverished neighbourhood, just north of downtown Maputo. As they moved into the city centre, they burned tires and looted shops and warehouses. Protests were also reported in other areas of the capital.

Girl shot dead

Police responded with gunfire. State television said police shot and killed six people, including a girl of about six who was on her way home from school.

Alice Caisane, a Maputo hospital medical chief, told state TV that four of the victims died at her hospital and 16 were treated for gunshot injuries. Earlier, witnesses saw an ambulance remove the apparently lifeless body of a boy who had a severe head wound.

Police appealed for calm and said they had made an unspecified number of arrests. Youths were blocking streets and public transport drivers abandoned their vehicles in the streets.

Mozambicans have seen the price of a loaf of bread rise by 25%, from four to five meticais in the past year. Fuel and water costs also have risen.

The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Wednesday its food price index shot up 5% between July and August, fuelled in part by a drought in Russia that lifted the cost of wheat.

The FAO's Abdulreza Abbassian said there are sharp differences between the current price situation and the spring of 2008, when high oil prices and growing demand for biofuels pushed world food stocks to their lowest levels since 1982.

Stocks are much higher now and even while the forecast for world cereal production in 2010 has been lowered, it is still expected to be the third highest on record.

Government

Egypt has in recent months seen protests over rising food prices.

In Mozambique, critics say bad government decisions are making shortages worse and accuse producers of colluding to push up prices.

The Frelimo party, in power since Mozambique won independence from Portugal in 1975, has been plagued by charges its government is corrupt and inefficient.

Violent protests over high costs erupted here in 2008, when global food prices jumped. Factors cited included a drop in the US wheat harvest and higher demand for crops to use in biofuels. After a week of clashes between police and rioters that killed at least four people and seriously injured more than 100, the government cut fuel prices.

The FAO said the food price surge internationally also reflects higher sugar and oilseed prices.