April 12, 2008 / 4:35 PM / 11 years ago

Haiti cuts cost of rice to stop food riots

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The Haitian government and the private sector of the impoverished Caribbean country announced an emergency plan on Saturday to bring down the price of rice by about 15 percent in a bid to stop food riots.

President Rene Preval, under fire from critics for not doing enough about the soaring cost of living after more than a week of violent protests, said the price cut would be partly funded by the Haitian private sector and partly by money from international donors.

Crowds of stone-throwing Haitians began battling U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police in the south of the country on April 2, enraged at the soaring cost of rice, beans, bread, cooking oil and other staples.

The unrest, in which at least five people died, spread to the capital Port-au-Prince this week, bringing the sprawling and chaotic city to a halt as mobs took over the streets, smashing windows, looting shops and setting fire to cars.

Preval, whose appeal on Wednesday for an end to the violence brought a tense calm to the capital, said the price of a sack of rice would come down to $43 from $51.

Of that reduction, $3 would be paid by businesses.

“The situation is difficult everywhere around the world, everyone has to make a sacrifice,” Preval said at a news conference in the opulent National Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince.

“We are not going to lower taxes on food...,” he said, reiterating that the poorest country in the Americas could not afford to cut its revenues or it would not have enough money to pay for longer term projects that create jobs and boost agriculture.

Food costs have soared worldwide because of a combination of surging demand in emerging countries such as China, competition with biofuels, high oil prices and market speculation. Disturbances have broken out in a host of poor nations, primarily in Africa.

Reporting by Jim Loney, writing by Michael Christie, editing by Vicki Allen

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