Africa

Mozambique food price rises 'irreversible'

A policewoman by a burning tyre in Maputo, Mozambique (2 September 2010)
Image caption Troops have been clearing debris from the streets of the capital

The government of Mozambique says price rises which have led to riots in the capital Maputo are "irreversible".

The comments came after an emergency cabinet meeting on the two days of unrest in which seven people have died.

Troops have been deployed to help clear up the debris while text messages are reported to have been circulating urging people to continue protesting.

The price of bread has risen by about 30% in the past year in Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries.

Government spokesman Alberto Nkutumula said the cabinet meeting had emphasised "the importance of all citizens to abstain from participating in acts of upheaval, vandalism, looting and violence in general to enable the quick return to normality".

He condemned the violence on the streets of the capital and appealed for people to remain calm, but said the government would not reconsider increasing the price of bread.

"The price hikes are irreversible," he told reporters.

Officials say seven people have been killed in the two days of violence in Maputo and 288 have been wounded. Two of those killed were reported to have been children.

Protesters have also damaged or looted 23 businesses while 12 buses and two train carriages were vandalised, said Mr Nkutumula.

'Three days'

Troops were deployed on the streets of the capital on Thursday to clear barricades, debris and burning tyres left by protesters. Sporadic gunfire was heard during the day.

Schools were closed and many people stayed at home to avoid the violence.

Many witnesses say police have used live bullets to break up the crowds, but this has been denied by officials.

"I cannot risk going to work," Reuters news agency quoted a resident named Gerson Marcos as saying.

"Police are heavily armed and indiscriminately firing live bullets because they think everyone is involved."

Home Affairs Minister Jose Pacheco said the government was trying to trace the source text messages circulating among the city's residents, urging them to continue protests on Friday.

"I received an SMS saying the strike must continue for three more days," Abel Salvador Bild, a street vendor in the capital, told the AFP news agency.

The violence has been the worst in Mozambique since 2008, when clashes between police and rioters over rising prices left at least four people dead.

On Wednesday, President Armando Guebuza said he understood people's anger and was aware of the poverty in which many people in the country lived.

"Combating poverty is part of the government's five-year plan," he said.

But Mr Guebuza it was "sad that people used the right to demonstrate peacefully to turn it into violent protests".

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