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More than 1,000 protest over food prices in Peru

LIMA (Reuters) - More than 1,000 women protested outside Peru’s Congress on Wednesday, banging empty pots and pans to demand the government do more to counter rising food prices, which have squeezed the poor from Kazakhstan to Haiti.

The women, many toting small children on the hip or by the hand, run food kitchens for the poor, where Peruvians can buy breakfast or lunch for less than a dollar.

Inflation for basic foods sank President Alan Garcia’s approval rating to 26 percent this month, the lowest level since he took office in 2006.

This month, weeks after cutting taxes on food imports, Garcia started sending the army to hand out free bags of food in the poorest neighborhoods of Lima, the capital, at a time when a global increase in food prices has raised concerns about political instability in many countries.

“Food prices keep on rising and the government doesn’t pay attention to the eating halls,” said Maria Bozeta, director of one of three associations that represent eating halls in Lima.

The meals they serve are subsidized by the government, but the women say they are struggling to put food on the table for the poor and want Garcia to increase financial aid so they can cover their costs.

“The pot is empty, Garcia!” the women chanted as they wound their way toward Congress in downtown Lima.

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on eating halls each day across South America’s third-largest country, where about 12 million people, or 42 percent of the population, live in poverty.

The women who run the eating halls want the government to increase subsidies by 30 percent so they can buy enough rice, bread and meat.

“Where will we go to eat?” asked Soledad Requena, a women at the protest.

Reporting by Enrique Mandujano and Enrique Castro-Mendivil, writing by Jean Luis Arce and Terry Wade, Editing by Dana Ford and Eric Beech