Youths loot rice stores in Guinea capital

CONAKRY, July 5 (Reuters) - Gangs of youths armed with machetes looted rice stores in Guinea's capital Conakry on Tuesday in fresh protests over soaring prices for food and fuel in the impoverished West African country, residents said.

Armed police were deployed to some suburbs of the crumbling pot-holed city to protect food stores and their employees, witnesses and police said.

"We've had no peace for three days. Yesterday they injured three of our employees with machetes and tried to take our stocks," said one store owner in the Dixinn suburb of Conakry.

"They tried to attack us again this morning but the police were already there," he said, declining to give his name.

Guinea was long seen as a bulwark against wars which raged in neighbours Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, but looks increasingly vulnerable with a stumbling economy, rampant corruption and a powerful but fractured military.

Rising prices for basic goods such as rice and fuel have heightened tensions in Guinea, already on edge over the failing health of its chain-smoking, diabetic President Lansana Conte, which has raised fears of a dangerous power vacuum.

Scores of youths with sticks and stones blocked traffic and burned tyres in the dilapidated capital last week, some of them shouting "Down with Conte".

The official inflation rate is running at more than 30 percent and the cost of fuel shot up 50 percent in May, with the government blaming a spike in international crude prices.

A 50-kg sack of local rice, which cost 26,000 Guinean francs last year (around $7), now costs nearly five times as much, although the head of the country's rice importers' association set an official maximum price of 75,000 francs on Tuesday.

Thousands of people flocked to welcome Guinea's main opposition leader, Alpha Conde, back home after two years in self-imposed exile on Sunday although the veteran opposition figure has so far given no reason for his return.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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