MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique’s government deployed troops to clear barricades in the capital as angry protesters blocked roads and looted shops on Thursday, the second day of riots caused by soaring bread prices.
The cabinet held an emergency session and appealed for calm, and cabinet spokesman Alberto Nkutumula said seven people had been killed and 280 injured in the protests.
“We condemn acts of violence and we appeal to all citizens to remain calm,” Nkutumula said.
Police said the army had been sent into the capital Maputo to help clear barricades erected by thousands of protesters.
“The army was called to clean the city (of barricades) and not to restore order and public security,” Pedro Cossa, spokesman of the general police command, told state-controlled Mozambique Television TVM.
The sight of soldiers on the streets could scare off protesters and prevent further riots. On Wednesday seven people, including two children, were killed when police opened fire on protesters in the worst riots to hit the southern African country of 23 million since 2008.
The rioting was prompted by a 30 percent rise in bread prices in one of the world’s poorest countries, which has never fully recovered from one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars and has a 54 percent unemployment rate.
The government-imposed price rise took the cost of a bread roll — the bread staple of Mozambicans — to 20 U.S. cents in a country where the average worker earns around $37 a month.
The government said it would not reverse the price increases.
“The price hikes are irreversible,” government spokesman Nkutumula told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
Schools and most businesses in the capital were closed on Thursday and shoppers waited in long queues at the few bakeries that were open.
Despite its poverty, Mozambique has one of the fastest growing economies in the world’s poorest continent, and the IMF expects 7 percent GDP growth this year. The main exports are aluminium, electric power, coal and farm products including sugar.
Mozambicans say they have been hit hard by the rising price of bread and other basic goods, as world wheat prices have soared. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Wednesday that international food prices were at their highest level in two years.
“I opted to join the protests because life is very difficult with these hikes, the government has turned a deaf ear to our long grievances, they only need us during election time,” said Teofilo Pedro, from the industrial surbub of Matola on Maputo’s outskirts.
Egypt has also had a number of protests over food prices in recent months, and analysts have been warning that protests could follow the jump in food prices in Africa and the Middle East
Some 70 percent of Mozambique’s population live below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook, and the country depends heavily on imports from South Africa which have become more expensive in recent months as the South African rand has strengthened.
Home Affairs Minister Jose Pacheco said the government was trying to identify the source of text messages and emails circulating since Tuesday, urging residents to join the protest.
He said no order to use live ammunition was given to police on Wednesday. Other top police officials said live ammunition was used in some places when police ran out of rubber bullets and citizens also reported that real bullets were fired.
The human rights group Amnesty International called on Mozambican police not to use live ammunition.
“While we recognise that the police are trying to contain a violent protest, live ammunition — which amounts to lethal force — should not be used except when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” Muluka-Anne Miti, Amnesty’s Mozambique researcher, said in a statement.
The opposition Renamo party also criticised police for using live ammunition.
Private television station STv reported 10 deaths, about 140 arrests, 27 people badly injured and 32 shops and banks looted.
“I cannot risk going to work, police are heavily armed and indiscriminately firing live bullets because they think everyone is involved,” said Gerson Marcos, a resident of Magoanine, a densely populated suburb on the outskirts of Maputo.
killed in protests over high fuel prices and living costs.
The former Portuguese colony was torn by a 16-year civil war from the late 1970s until a peace treaty was signed in 1992, ending fighting between the then-Marxist ruling party and South African-backed rebels.