MOGADISHU, Somalia – Troops opened fire and killed at least two people among tens of thousands who rioted over high food prices in Somalia's capital Monday, a doctor and witnesses said.
On the other side of the continent, Senegal's leader called for the United Nations to disband its main agricultural organization, calling it an incompetent money-eater that failed to alert the world to the global food crisis. Prices of rice and other food staples have risen by 47 percent worldwide, and by even more in Africa, stoked by poor weather, fuel prices and growing demand from India and China's burgeoning middle classes. There have been protests, some deadly, in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.
In Mogadishu, protesters including women and children marched against the refusal of traders to accept old 1,000-shilling notes, blaming them and a growing number of counterfeiters for rising food costs.
"Down with those suffocating us!" the protesters screamed.
Within an hour, a reporter for The Associated Press watched their ranks swell to tens of thousands. They jammed narrow streets, many wielding thick sticks, and spread to all 13 districts of the capital. Some hurled stones, smashing the windshields of several cars and buses. Rocks also were thrown at shops and chaos erupted at the capital's main Bakara market.
Hundreds of shops and restaurants in southern Mogadishu closed their doors for fear of looting.
Witnesses said troops opened fire in at least two areas of the capital, but most soldiers fired into the air.
Dr. Dahir Dhere said a man wounded in the protests died on the way to an operating room at the capital's main Medina Hospital.
Protester Abdinur Farah said he was marching with his uncle along with the uncle's two wives and six children in southern Mogadishu when government troops opened fire. He said his uncle was hit and died before they could get him to the hospital.
"He was just peacefully expressing his feelings," Farah said. "It is saddening that the very government which is supposed to support him killed him."
Other witnesses said four people were wounded and several more injured in the violence.
"First we have been killed with bullets, now they are killing us with hunger," one protester, Halima Omar Hassan, told a reporter. She is a porter who carries goods for people on her back.
In Mogadishu, the price of a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of corn meal has gone from 12 cents in January to 25 cents. Another staple, rice, has risen in that time from $26 to $47.50 for a sack of 50 kilograms (110 pounds).
Food prices also have been affected by the plummeting Somali shilling, which lost nearly half its value this year, tumbling from 17,000 shillings to about 30,000 to the U.S. dollar amid growing insecurity and a market clogged with millions of counterfeit notes printed in bulk locally.
This Horn of Africa nation has been in turmoil for decades and without a functioning government since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.
Over the past year, thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes in fighting between Islamist insurgents and a U.N-sponsored transitional government supported by troops from neighboring Ethiopia.
The U.N. food security unit warned last week that half Somalia's population of 7 million faces famine. It blamed an enduring drought as well as soaring food prices.
Food protests also have erupted in three other African countries, including Senegal, whose President Abdoulaye Wade called for the United Nations to dismantle its Food and Agriculture Organization.
In a statement Sunday, Wade said he had long called for the Rome-based organization to be transferred to Africa, "near the 'sick ones' it pretends to care for."
"This time, I'm going further: It must be eliminated," he said. Wade suggested its assets be transferred to the U.N. International Fund for Agricultural Development, which he said was more efficient, and that the fund set up headquarters in Africa, "at the heart of the problem."
FAO officials would not comment.
Wade's government responded to protest marches by securing a deal with India that ensures Senegal's needs of 600,000 tons of rice a year are met for the next six years. In Burkina Faso, the government eliminated duties and taxes on rice, salt, milk and all products used to prepare food for children.