Sporadic gunfire continues in Mozambique; Police say 2 officers, 2 protesters dead in violence

MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) — Sporadic gunfire could be heard in Mozambique's capital Thursday, the morning after at least four people died in clashes between police and rioters angered by high prices.

Pedro Cossa, a spokesman for the police ministry, told The Associated Press Thursday two of his officers were beaten by mobs the day before. He said the death toll was four, including two protesters shot by police, and 26 people were injured.

Mozambique state TV, citing hospital reports, said seven people were killed, including two children caught in the violence as they went home from school.

The protesters, most of them young men, had rioted Wednesday over the rising cost of food, fuel and water. They threw stones and looted shops in Maputo, the capital. Cell phone messages late Wednesday and early Thursday called for more protests Thursday and Friday.

Early Thursday, gunshots could be heard in some Maputo neighborhoods. People were staying home, both out of fear of renewed violence and because, with debris from the rioting making roads impassible, buses and taxi vans were not running.

Mozambican police had declared Wednesday's marches illegal, saying no group sought permission for them. For days, word of the protests had been spread, in some cases by cell phone message, in this former Portuguese colony in southeast Africa.

In an address on state radio and television late Wednesday, President Armando Guebuza called on Mozambicans not to protest Thursday. He said his government would try to meet demands to bring down prices, but that would not be easy. He said Mozambique produced only 30 percent of the wheat it needed, and imported the rest.

Mozambicans have seen the price of a loaf of bread rise by 25 percent, from four to five meticais (from about 11 cents to about 13 U.S. cents) in the past year. Fuel and water costs also have risen.

In 2008 in Mozambique, after a week of clashes between police and rioters that killed at least four people and seriously injured more than 100, the government cut fuel prices.

Rising prices around the world have raised concerns about a return to the political instability of 2008, when Egypt, Haiti, Kenya and Somalia were among the countries that saw rioting over the cost of living. At the time, high oil prices and growing demand for biofuels pushed world food stocks to their lowest levels since 1982.

The U.N. said Wednesday that international food prices have risen to their highest in two years, shooting up 5 percent between July and August.

The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization forecast this year's wheat crop at 648 million tons, down 5 percent from 2009, reflecting a cut in drought-hit Russia's harvest estimate from 48 million tons to 43 million tons.

Critics say bad government decisions are making shortages worse and accuse producers of colluding to push up prices.