S.Leone cuts fuel, rice prices to avoid protests

FREETOWN (Reuters) – Sierra Leone has suspended a 10 percent tax on imported rice and cut the price of petroleum products in an attempt to avert civil unrest over the rising prices of basic necessities.

President Ernest Bai Koroma, speaking on national radio and television on Friday night, blamed the higher prices on external factors beyond the control of the impoverished West African nation, still recovering nine years after the end of civil war.

“Let me assure you, fellow citizens, that I also feel the pain,” Koroma said. “You are no doubt aware that the current problems are not home made, but are problems imposed upon us by external factors beyond our control,” he said.

Civil society organisations had threatened nationwide strikes in protest against the rising cost of living.

Food and fuel prices are a key concern in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where a similar spike in the cost of living in 2008 gave rise to violent protests in several countries.

Koroma said the government had decided to cut the price of petrol and kerosene to 4,500 Leone per litre from 5,000 Leone and to suspend the 10 percent duty on imported rice, the country’s staple food, with immediate effect.

He said the government had increased its spending on fuel subsidies to cushion the effects on the population and would continue to do so, adding that its expenditure on fuel subsidies had risen from about $650,000 a week in October 2010 to about $2.5 million a week by the end of April this year.

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