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Guineans Protest High Rice Prices


Groups of youths armed with machetes have looted food stores in Guinea's capital Conakry, stealing rice, which has become too expensive for the average person to afford. President Lansana Conte wants to prevent a repeat of food riots which shook the capital last year.

Police were deployed to parts of the Guinean capital Conakry, Tuesday, to try to prevent young men from looting food stores for rice. Subsidies were imposed on the staple food a year ago, after serious food riots took place in the capital.

But Africa analyst Richard Reeve says prices have again increased, because traders have not been paid what they were promised. "The government is supposed to pay a subsidy to keep the prices down. That's what vendors complain about, but the coffers are so empty in the country there's really nothing to pay that with," he said.

In recent weeks, people have begun protesting in small groups at the rising prices of food. President Lansana Conte, who suffers from severe diabetes, appeared last week at a protest, to try and get traders to lower rice prices. He asked traders to have pity on poor people, and reduce the price of essential goods.

Mr. Reeve said that Mr. Conte's appearance shows how seriously he is taking the situation. "It's very rare for President Conte to venture out onto the streets at all. His motorcade goes around, but he's generally seen to be a prisoner of his own health in his compound outside Conakry," he said.

The official rate of inflation in Guinea is 30 percent, and it is not just the price of rice that has been affected. The price of fuel more than doubled in May.

A local journalist, Mamadi Condi, in an earlier interview painted a bleak picture of life in the small state of eight million people. Mr. Condi said people have no drinking water or electricity, and that public transport also doesn't work. He said people have been driven to protest their situation, month after month.

Along with a faltering economy, Guineans are worried about who will succeed their frail president.

Thousands of Guineans were on the streets Sunday to welcome opposition leader Alpha Conde back, after two years in exile. Mr. Conde has given no reason for his return.

The 70-year old president has not indicated any potential successor. Mr. Conte came to power as head of a military government, and was elected to head a civilian government in 1993. He has ruled Guinea for 21 years.

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