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Businesses Reopen in Haiti After Food Protests

Businesses in the Haitian capital reopened Monday after days of riots sparked by rising food and fuel prices. Haiti's president has announced a series of emergency aid measures in the wake of the crisis, which led to the ouster of his prime minister. VOA's Brian Wagner has this report from Port-au-Prince.

Stores and restaurants around Port-au-Prince opened for the first time Monday, after deadly riots shut down the capital city last week. At least six people have been killed since residents took to the streets in the capital and the city of Les Cayes to protest rising costs for rice, beans and other staples.

United Nations officials say a Nigerian peacekeeper was killed Saturday, and three U.N. troops from Sri Lanka were shot in clashes outside the presidential palace a few days earlier.

A few streets from the palace, protesters broke windows of a restaurant run by Nirvah Noailles. She says she closed her business last week after seeing protesters rushing through the streets with rocks and torches in their hands.

"We only opened today just to see, but we really do not know what we have to do. It is not the first time [the restaurant was attacked], but we do not know what to do, we do not know where to go, we do not know anything," he said.

Noailles says she too has suffered from rising food prices, which have forced some customers to stop dining out. She says she raised her prices to keep up with costs last year, but she does not want to do that again for fear of losing more customers.

Shop keepers and residents across the capital say higher fuel prices and the fluctuating value of the U.S. dollar are to blame for the rise of prices of imported food products and other goods on the market. But many of the nation's residents, who live on less than two dollars a day, have suffered the most from the rising cost of rice and other staples.

To calm the concerns, President Rene Preval announced plans Saturday to work with local suppliers and international aid groups to cut rice prices by 15 percent. The World Bank also unveiled a $10 million grant to help Haiti offset rising food costs.

One casualty from the crisis over food prices has been Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was ousted in a weekend parliament vote. Critics said he was out of touch with peoples' concerns and did little to stop the rising cost of living.

This week senators are expected to discuss a replacement for Alexis, but it is unclear when a nomination may be announced.

Senate secretary general Jean-Elie Gilles says lawmakers are under pressure to find a way to ease the crisis as soon as possible. "Because there are people in the political parties, they know that we have the eyes of the population fixed on them. And they cannot decide [on a new prime minister] how they used to, ... through buying time," he said.

Gilles says negotiations to pick a new prime minister may drag on. The first task of the new leaders will be to find a solution to Haiti's food crisis.