Uneasy calm returns in Mozambique after food riots

Mozambique police kept a close watch over the capital Maputo on Saturday after three days of riots over food and fuel price hikes that left ten people dead.

No new cases of unrest had been reported since last night, when three police officers were injured in clashes with demonstrators, police officials said. “Three police were injured when protesters threw stones at them. When we tried to stop them some people threw stones and other objects at police,” said police spokesman Arnaldo Chefo.

Ten people were killed and more than 440 injured in violence since Wednesday sparked by spiralling food prices. Police fired rubber bullets and live ammunition to control demonstrators.

The Red Cross, which has been monitoring the demonstrations since they started, said no fresh incidents of unrest had been reported.

“We have no incidents reported since yesterday,” said Americo Ubisse, the organisation’s spokesman in Maputo.

“Everything is fine, the situation is still under control,” he added.

The Red Cross also said Chomoio in the centre part of the country was quiet, following fresh skirmishes on Friday night.

In markets around the city people went about their usual business, with shops re-opened and buzzing with customers.

But the impact of the riots was still evident everywhere in the city, with charred debris scattered across the streets and blockades being removed by the police.

The unrest interrupted fuel supplies in Maputo and long lines formed outside fuel stations, as people scrambled to fill up their cars.

Price hikes for several essential foodstuffs including bread were implemented on September 1 and the government said this week the increases were “irreversible.”

“It is not just bread. So many things have got too expensive here in Mozambique. Electricity went up, water and rice,” said Joao Francisco Chirindze, a carpenter.

Chirindze said the cost of living was too high for many people. He said his household expenses amounted to between 5,000 and 7,000 meticals (140 and 190 dollars, 100 and 150 euros) a month, more than twice his salary.

He said he supplemented his wages by doing odd jobs on the side, helped by the money brought in by his wife from selling potatoes.

“The metical is down right now, it doesn’t have the same value it used to. The dollar and the South African rand have gone up a lot. Everything is difficult to buy,” he lamented.

According to the United Nations, more than half the 22 million Mozambican population survives on less than one dollar a day.

“The customers are complaining, they do not want to accept the price of six meticals for bread. They say it is very expensive,” said Alcido Manjate, a bread vendor from Benfica, a poor neighbourhood outside Maputo.

The violence was the worst in Mozambique since 2008, when six people were killed in protests against a public transport fare increase.

The southern African country which lies on the Indian Ocean coast relies on neighbouring South Africa for many goods, while a large number of Mozambicans work in South African mines.

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