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Deadly food riots result in drop in rice cost

Most of Haiti's farmland has been abandoned
April 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
President Rene Preval announced a drop in the price of rice Saturday in a bid to defuse anger of rising food prices that fueled days of deadly protests and looting across Haiti. After meeting with food importers in the national palace, Preval said the price of a 50-pound (23-kilogram) bag of rice will drop from US$51 (euro32) to US$43 (euro27) - a reduction of 15.7 percent.

The Haitian president said the government will use international aid money to subsidize the price of rice and that the private sector has agreed to knock US$3 (euro2) off the price of each bag. Preval did not say when the price reduction would go into effect.

Preval also said he would ask Venezuela for help, especially about providing fertilizer for struggling farmers.

The announcements come in the wake of looting and clashes between hundreds of protesters and U.N. peacekeepers earlier this week. Protesters blame the government for failing to create jobs and control soaring food prices, and some demonstrators called for Preval's resignation. The violence left at least five people dead.

On Saturday, U.N. military commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz told The Associated Press that calm was returning across the country, with some transportation resuming and people going back to work.

Haiti's parliament was meeting Saturday and is expected to discuss the fate of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, whom several senators have already called upon to resign. Preval pledged to support any decision they make.

"If the prime minister has a vote of censure, I will call the president of the senate to propose a new prime minister," Preval said.

The U.N. commander said that several social, economic and political changes are still needed in Haiti to maintain the present calm and address the increased cost of living. Cruz did not provide specifics.

"It is important for the people to have a peaceful life in Haiti," Santos Cruz said.

Globally, food prices have risen 40 percent since mid-2007. Haiti, where most people live on less than US$2 (euro1.26) a day, is particularly affected because it imports nearly all of its food, including more than 80 percent of its rice.

Much of Haiti's once-productive farmland has been abandoned as farmers struggle to grow crops in soil decimated by erosion, deforestation, flooding and tropical storms.

 

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