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Clashes continue in Mozambique price protests

MAPUTO, September 2, 2010 (AFP) – Fresh clashes between police and demonstrators erupted in Mozambique on Thursday, the second day of violent protests over food and fuel prices that have left seven dead and hundreds injured.

Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets at a group of women protesting in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital Maputo on Thursday evening, an AFP correspondent said.

Elsewhere, people queued to buy bread and water at the few shops that remained open amid reports of looting and vandalism.

Protesters had dragged rocks into streets that police had cleared of burning tyres and debris just hours before.

Red Cross spokesman Americo Ubisse said the unrest was ongoing.

"It dies down, then flares up again," he told AFP.

On Wednesday too, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in and around the capital to voice their frustration at sharply rising food and fuel costs.

But Mozambique\’s government, which held an emergency cabinet meeting Thursday as the clashes continued, said price rises in the impoverished southern African country were "irreversible".

Prices in the import-dependent country have risen on the back of a South African rand whose value has appreciated 43 percent against the Mozambican metical since this time last year.

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Mozambique\’s state utility company implemented a 13.4-percent rate increase Wednesday, while the state water supplier raised prices in and around the capital, state newspaper Noticias said.

The price of bread has also risen 17 percent, increasing pressure on struggling households in a country with a per-capita income of just 794 dollars (620 euros) a year.

Government spokesman Alberto Nkutumula said Thursday that seven people had been killed and 288 injured during the riots in Maputo and surrounding areas, and called for a return to calm.

Thursday\’s 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 added.

The unrest had cost the economy 122 million meticals (3.3 million dollars, 2.6 million euros), he said.

Police denied reports by witnesses and doctors that they had used live rounds to quell the unrest.

"Our officers always use rubber bullets," police spokesman Pedro Cossa said.

Despite the police crackdown, some residents of the capital were said to be preparing for further demonstrations.

One resident told AFP that locals were planning future action via mobile phone text messages.

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

President Armando Guebuza said late Wednesday he understood the anger of the people at rising prices but said it was "sad that people used the right to demonstrate peacefully to turn it into violent protests.

"The government is aware of the poverty of the people. Combating poverty is part of the government\’s five-year plan," he added.

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

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