Troops fired into tens of thousands of rioting Somalis, 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 on Monday, screaming, “Down with those suffocating us!”
In Mogadishu, demonstrators including women and children marched to protest 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 the middle of last year, leading to protests and riots in other nations, including Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.
The Asian Development Bank said on 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 UN 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 US$26 to US$47.50 for a 50kg sack.
The cost of food has also been driven up by the plummeting Somali shilling, which has lost nearly half its value against the US dollar this year because of growing insecurity and a market clogged with millions of counterfeit notes.
The shilling has tumbled from about 17,000 to the US 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.
Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed said on Monday that he planned to create a new currency in a bid to fight against counterfeiters who helped spark massive inflation in the country.
Ahmed — speaking in Paris, where he met with top French officials — did not directly respond to a question about the current situation in the Somali capital, saying only “the country has been in chaos, in anarchy for a long time.”