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War-shocked N'Djamena citizens face battle for food
N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - After surviving an assault by rebels last weekend, residents of the Chadian capital N'Djamena are now facing another battle to put food on the family table.
As traders got back to business on Friday in the dusty, debris-littered streets, shoppers were finding it hard to locate many items and what there was had skyrocketed in price.
Hadje Hawa Mahamat came back home from the market with little in her shopping bags besides rice, tomatoes and dry meat.
"I haven't brought you anything, everything is so expensive," Mahamat, wearing an orange headscarf and wrap dress, said in Arabic to her three children who had rushed out to greet her. Their faces fell.
Rebels whom the government says are backed by neighboring Sudan stormed into the riverside capital in armed pick-up trucks a week ago and besieged President Idriss Deby in his palace.
Two days of heavy fighting in the streets killed at least 165 people, injured more than 800, sprayed bullets, shells and shrapnel over central shopfronts and market stalls and triggered a wave of looting across the city.
Tens of thousands of people fled over the river border to Kousseri in neighboring Cameroon while others hid in their houses, hoping to avoid both crossfire and violent looters.
Traders and street vendors were setting out wares again on Friday. Those with no serious damage to clear up piled household goods and other brightly colored items outside their premises.
Many demanded higher prices for basic foodstuffs.
Rice, a staple of the dinner table in Chad, was being sold at prices ranging up to 1,200 CFA francs ($2.65) a coro -- a measure used locally for dry products -- from 750 CFA francs ($1.66) before the rebel attack surprised the city.
Paraffin, which many N'Djamena residents depend on for cooking and for lighting houses without electricity, had doubled to 1,200 CFA francs a liter.
The city's main market lay mostly in ruins and stall holders picked through the wreckage left by explosions and looting.
Clothes and shoe seller Mbdou Abderamane and his brothers dismantled twisted corrugated roof sheeting from his stall. Asked what he would do, he replied: "What can I say today?"
On a street corner the other side of town, flies buzzed around meat on wooden tables. A faint putrid smell hung in the air. "The abattoir is not operating. This is the meat from the refrigerators that we are selling," said butcher Mahamat Tahir.
"The meat is expensive because it is a difficult situation," he added, justifying the increase in prices.
President Deby's government has said it beat back the rebels, who had raced in a column of 300 vehicles from the eastern border with Sudan to raid the capital in western Chad.
Rebel leaders said they were hiding out in rugged savannah country in central Chad. They said they would strike again.
Foreign aid agencies, many of whom had their offices in N'Djamena looted, have urged the United Nations to make relief airlifts to east Chad to guarantee supplies to half a million refugees and displaced civilians sheltering at U.N. camps there.
(Writing by Alistair Thomson, Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Mary Gabriel)
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