Mozambique authoritties arrest 148 over riots

BY NANGAYI GUYSON – Maputo – Authorities  in  Mozambique  have arrested at least 150 people over  last week’s  riots  in  which 10 people were killed, the country’s state-run radio reported on  Monday.

Mozambique’s  capital Maputo was rocked last week by the riots. Protests also erupted  in the central town of Chimoio and Matola, an industrial suburb of the capital.

According to Reuters, police spokesperson Joaquim Selemane was quoted  saying police were attempting to identify the ringleaders of the protests,  which were organised by cell phone text messages and which left hundreds  of people injured.

He told reporters  that 142 people “were  arrested for burning tyres and property destruction plus six suspected  of sending text messages” to incite the protests.

A 30% rise in  the price of bread has sparked anger in one of the world’s poorest  countries, but the government has said it is helpless in the face of  soaring global wheat prices.

Drought and fires in Russia, which  had been the world’s No 3 wheat exporter, and a decision by the Russian  government to extend a grain export ban until late 2011, have helped to  boost benchmark US wheat prices by more than 25% this year.

Analysts  say food prices will further stoke inflation which surged to more than 14% in June from decade lows last year of close to 3% but they expect  investor appetite to remain undiminished for the country’s natural  resources.

“I really do not think it is going to affect investor  sentiment in the longer term. The investments there are mostly in big  projects like coal and gas,” said Christie Viljoen, an economist at NKC  Independent Economists.

However,Opposition parties and human rights groups have  criticised the government, saying it failed to gauge the anger that  would be unleashed by the 30% bread price rise and increases in water  and electricity tariffs.

Although Mozambique is one of the  fastest growing economies in Africa, it has never fully recovered from  its civil war, which ended in 1992. Income disparities are glaring and  poverty remains gut wrenching.

Egyptians also protested over food  prices in recent months, and analysts have been warning that riots  could follow the jump in food prices in Africa and the Middle East.

There were global food protests and riots in 2008 when the price of wheat and other farm commodities climbed steeply.