Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

2 killed as troops fire into Somali riot over food prices

Posted in Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on May 6, 2008

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN, AP

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Troops fired into tens of thousands of rioting Somalis on Monday, killing two people in the latest eruption of violence over soaring food prices around the world.

Wielding thick sticks and hurling stones that smashed the windshields of several cars and buses, the rioters jammed the narrow streets of the Somali capital, screaming, “Down with those suffocating us!”

In Mogadishu, protesters including women and children marched against the refusal of traders to accept old 1,000-shilling notes, blaming them and a growing number of counterfeiters for rising food costs.

Within an hour, a reporter for The Associated Press watched their ranks swell to tens of thousands, and the riot spread to all 13 districts of the capital. Some threw rocks at shops and chaos erupted at the capital’s main Bakara market.

Hundreds of shops and restaurants in southern Mogadishu closed for fear of looting. At least four other people were wounded in the violence, witnesses said.

The price of rice and other staples has risen more than 40 percent since mid-2007, leading to protests and riots in other nations, including Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

The Asian Development Bank said Monday that a billion poor people in Asia need food aid to help cope with the skyrocketing prices. And the president of Senegal said the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization should be dismantled, calling it a “money pit” and blaming it for the food crisis.

Soaring fuel prices, growing demand from the burgeoning middle classes in India and China and poor weather have contributed to a jump in food prices worldwide. Africa has been particularly hard-hit.

In Mogadishu, the price of corn meal has more than doubled since January. Rice has risen during the same period from $26 to $47.50 for a 110-pound sack.

The cost of food has also been driven up by the plummeting Somali shilling, which has lost nearly half its value against the U.S. dollar this year because of growing insecurity and a market clogged with millions of counterfeit notes. The shilling has tumbled from about 17,000 per U.S. dollar to about 30,000.

“First we have been killed with bullets, now they are killing us with hunger,” said protester Halima Omar Hassan, a porter who hefts goods for people on her back. At the riot Monday, witnesses said troops opened fire in at least two areas of the capital, though most soldiers were firing into the air.

One man shot by the troops died on the way to an operating room at the capital’s main hospital, Dr. Dahir Dhere said.

And Abdinur Farah, a protester, said his uncle was hit when government troops opened fire and died before he could reach a hospital.

“He was just peacefully expressing his feelings,” said Farah, who was marching with his uncle, his uncle’s two wives and his uncle’s six children. “It is saddening that the very government which is supposed to support him, killed him.”

Somalia has been without a functioning government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Siad Barre.

Over the past year, thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from homes in fighting pitting Islamist insurgents against a U.N-sponsored transitional government supported by troops from neighboring Ethiopia.

The U.N. food security unit warned last week that half of Somalia’s population of 7 million faces famine. It blamed an enduring drought as well as soaring food prices.

In a statement late Sunday, Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade said he had long called for the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, a separate U.N. agency, to be moved from Rome to Africa, “near the ‘sick ones’ it pretends to care for.”

But, “This time, I’m going further: It must be eliminated,” he said.

Wade suggested its assets be transferred to the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development, which he said was more efficient, and that that agency set up headquarters in Africa “at the heart of the problem.” The FAO declined comment.

Wade’s government in Senegal, in western Africa across the continent from Somalia, responded to protest marches by securing a deal with India that ensures Senegal’s needs of 600,000 tons of rice a year are met for the next six years.

In Burkina Faso, the government eliminated duties and taxes on rice, salt, milk and all products used to prepare food for children.

___

Associated Press Writer Todd Pitman contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.

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