World News

Libyans grapple with soaring food prices, queues

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Snaking queues outside bakeries and soaring rice and flour prices have fueled public anger in the Libyan capital as protests against leader Muammar Gaddafi spread around the country.

People wait to collect their 500 Libyan dinars ($400) cash handouts from the government at a bank in Tripoli February 28, 2011. Libya's government, clinging to power after a popular revolt, has ordered massive cash handouts including wage increases, food subsidies and allowances, state television reported on Friday. Each family will receive 500 Libyan dinars ($400) to help cover increased food costs, and wages for some categories of public sector workers would increase by 150 percent, according to the station. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

The turmoil, which started in the east about 10 days ago and has now spread to other parts of Libya, has disrupted supplies in the desert, oil-producing nation which depends on imports to cover domestic food demand.

In Tripoli’s working class Fashloom neighborhood, locals said flour, vegetables and fuel prices had risen by at least 20 percent in their neighborhood in the last 10 days.

People formed long lines outside bakeries, limited to selling between five and 20 loaves of bread per customer, depending on the area. One man in Fashloom said an average extended household in Tripoli consumed about 40 loaves a day.

“There isn’t enough food,” said Basim, 25, a bank employee, adding that many workers in the public sector had yet to receive salaries for February. “It’s the end of the month, my money is running out. I don’t know what I will do.”

Crowds of people also massed outside state banks, which have started distributing handouts of about $400 per family in an effort by Gaddafi’s government to drum up support.

Inside one bank, there were frantic scenes as chain-smoking employees worked through people’s papers and counted out wads of cash. One man in the crowd shouted angrily and rattled metal gates outside the bank teller’s window.

“It’s a difficult situation. Food in many countries in getting more expensive. In Libya, rising prices suddenly changed the situation,” said Khaled Amir, 30, a bank manager. “People are nervous.”

Asked about the delay in public sector wages, a government source said 60 percent of public sector workers had received their salaries and the remaining 40 percent would receive them no later than Wednesday.

The source said the delay was because the government had ordered pay rises and it was taking time to re-calculate the new wages. The minimum wage is 450 Libyan dinars ($357) a month.

The World Food Program has said Libya could find its food supply cut off due to disruption of imports.

Medical supplies have also been hit, particularly in rebel-held cities such as Zawiyah near Tripoli.

A doctor there told Reuters over the weekend a makeshift hospital treating people wounded in clashes with state forces did not have enough supplies and needed more doctors.

A report published by British-based think tank the Quilliam Foundation said on Monday: “Civil infrastructure is in increasing disarray and there is the strong possibility that a humanitarian crisis may occur due to further fighting or disruption to food supplies.”

“People want the government to change,” said one man in Fashloom, speaking anonymously. “There are no jobs and people are nervous and worried. ... (Gaddafi) does not want to change. But people want change. That’s why there is a conflict.”