Maputo – Almost 150 people have been arrested in Mozambique in the wake of riots last week over soaring bread prices in which 10 people were killed, the country’s state-run radio reported on today.
It quoted police spokesman Joaquim Selemane as saying police were attempting to identify the ringleaders of the protests, which were organized by cell phone text messages and which left hundreds of people injured.
He told the broadcaster that 142 people “were arrested for burning tyres and property destruction plus six suspected of sending text messages” to incite the protests.
A 30% rise in the price of bread has sparked anger in one of the world’s poorest countries, but the government has said it is helpless in the face of soaring global wheat prices.
Drought and fires in Russia, which had been the world’s No. 3 wheat exporter, and a decision by the Russian government to extend a grain export ban until late 2011, have helped to boost benchmark US wheat prices by more than 25% this year.
Analysts say food prices will further stoke inflation which surged to more than 14% in June from decade lows last year of close to three percent but they expect investor appetite to remain undiminished for the country’s natural resources.
“I really do not think it is going to affect investor sentiment in the longer term. The investments there are mostly in big projects like coal and gas,” said Christie Viljoen, an economist at NKC Independent Economists.
Mozambique’s capital Maputo was rocked last week by the riots. Protests also erupted in the central town of Chimoio and Matola, an industrial suburb of the capital.
Opposition parties and human rights groups have criticised the government, saying it failed to gauge the anger that would be unleashed by the 30% bread price rise and increases in water and electricity tariffs.
Although Mozambique is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, it has never fully recovered from its civil war, which ended in 1992. Income disparities are glaring and poverty remains gut wrenching.
Egyptians also protested over food prices in recent months, and analysts have been warning that riots could follow the jump in food prices in Africa and the Middle East.
There were global food protests and riots in 2008 when the price of wheat and other farm commodities climbed steeply.
Meanwhile, Mozambican police today deployed across impoverished neighbourhoods in the capital Maputo to prevent fresh protests over food prices, after 10 people died in three days of rioting last week.
Over the weekend, text messages circulated through the city to urge Mozambicans to return to the streets on Monday, prompting police to fan out through the city as businesses cautiously opened their doors.
Police patrolled the city centre, while trucks transported officers to outlying areas that saw some of the worst violence last week.
“We did not have any incidents over the weekend, but there are rumours that people will return to the streets Monday to continue rioting,” Maputo police spokesman Arnaldo Chefo said.
“Now we have deployed all our forces on the ground so that we can get the situation under control as soon as possible. But right now we have no sign suggestion that it will erupt again,” said Chefo.
On Wednesday, riots erupted around Maputo as people blocked roads with burning tyres in protest at high fuel and food prices.
Rioting spread to several towns in central parts of the country, resulting is deadly clashes with the police with 159 people arrested and about 450 injured.
– Reuters and SAPA