Mozambique reverses bread price hike

2010-09-07 16:34

Maputo - Mozambique's government is reversing bread and water price increases that had touched off deadly riots, the planning minister said on Tuesday.

Protests last week in the capital, Maputo, over hikes in the costs of bread, water and electricity turned violent, with demonstrators clashing with police. The health department put the death toll at 13.

Planning Minister Aiuba Cuereneia told reporters after a cabinet meeting that the 20% increase in the government-set price of bread - which had followed a year of steady increases on the staple in this impoverished country - that went into effect on Monday would be reversed.

He said an increase in the price of water also would be reversed, but that higher electricity tariffs were being maintained.

"These are measures we are taking to reduce the cost of living in Mozambique," the minister said. He referred to the protests only to condemn the violence.

Salary increases stopped

The government was cutting back elsewhere to compensate. Cuereneia said the government was suspending salary increases for top government officials and stipends for those chairing the boards of public companies.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a statement on Tuesday its experts did not believe the world was headed toward a food crisis like the one in 2008, when high prices sparked political instability in Mozambique, Haiti and elsewhere.

FAO said this year's cereal harvest worldwide was the third highest on record and food stocks are high. Other conditions, such as soaring fuel prices, that were blamed for the 2007-2008 food crisis aren't present now, officials say.

The FAO nonetheless cautioned that food commodities markets will remain more volatile in coming years. It suggested improving the markets' regulation and establishing an "appropriate level" of emergency food stocks, while assuring fluid global trade in food.

Global food costs

The agency is holding a special session on September 24 to better gauge the food supply situation in member nations, but FAO stressed that the gathering is "not an emergency meeting".

This year, a drought in Russia has prompted the country to restrict wheat exports, helping drive up global food costs.

Mozambique's government has said that keeping food prices low is difficult because so much of the country's food has to be imported. The southeastern African nation grows only 30% of the wheat it needs.

Energy Minister Salvador Namburete has said on Monday that the recent increase in the price of electricity was necessary to cover the cost of electrifying rural areas and constructing a new power line in the country's northwest.

No-one has come forward as the organiser of the protests. Word was spread by cellphone SMSes, and on Monday Mozambicans found they were suddenly unable to send SMSes. It was unclear whether the SMS failure was part of a government crackdown.

The worst of the rioting was on Wednesday and on Thursday. Though it died down after that, the government had struggled to stamp out unrest and protests had flared outside Maputo.

Authorities have said they were trying to trace who sent the first unsigned cellphone messages calling for protests in the southern African nation. Over the weekend, SMSes calling for calm and portraying protests as unpatriotic began to appear - they, too, were unsigned.