MAPUTO, Mozambique – Thousands of Mozambicans walked home from work Thursday, after youths violently protested bus fare hikes by burning tires and attacking bus drivers, forcing buses off the streets.
The violence began Thursday morning as the youths erected roadblocks around the main roads leading to the capital Maputo and its neighboring city Matola. The protesters, including children, threw stones at drivers and burned debris in the road after most workers had arrived at their jobs. Some protester shouted: "We have no money to pay for transport!"
The protesters focused their anger on the municipal bus company and other privately owned minibuses. Authorities recently announced that longer bus routes in the region would be increased from 7.5 meticais (25 U.S. cents) to 9 meticais (30 U.S. cents). Shorter routes also saw price increases.
Many employers let workers go home early Thursday because of the chaos, as most bus drivers didn't drive their routes in the afternoon out of fear of being attacked. While calm filled the streets, riot police remained on the road, trying to remove some of the barricades erected by protesters. Armored police vehicles patrolled neighborhoods, filled with heavily armed officers.
Police arrested 12 protesters, said Arnaldo Chefo, a spokesman for Maputo's police command. He said there had been no injuries in the disturbances.
"We appeal to the people to be calm and vigilant to trace those who are involved in the disturbances," Jose Damiao, a spokesman for the governing Frelimo party, told state radio.
Those who walked home were worried there could be more violence on Friday.
"I think tomorrow I am not going to work," said Margardia Matsinhe, who works at a post office. "I would like to wait and see what is going to happen."
Mozambique was left in ruins by a civil war that broke out after independence from Portugal in 1975 and lasted for 17 years. The country is now registering economic growth, but many of the population remain desperately poor.
Protests remain common over price increases in the country. In 2010, protests in Maputo over hikes in the costs of bread, water and electricity turned violent, with demonstrators clashing with police. At least 13 people were killed.