Monday, July 10, 2006

[Guinean news] Merchants hoarding rice; human rights groups condemn protest deaths; cholera epidemic

Guinea is still feeling the repercussions of the major general strike that crippled the country for nine days last month. It was noted earlier that the government had agreed to lower the price of rice. But this action has encouraged hoarding of the staple food by merchants. Most traders say they would incur large losses if they sold the food at the government price and many have reportedly shut down operations. The UN's IRIN news service noted:

At a store owned by one of Guinea’s most influential businessmen, El-Hadj Mamadou Sylla in central Conakry, rice is for sale at the new cut-down government price, but Sylla says he’s shouldering a loss.

“I am certainly selling at a loss,” said Sylla. “What I am doing is making a sacrifice to Guinea and Guineans.”

But would-be buyers outside Sylla’s store said a corruption racket had been set up.

“We need only sack of rice each, and for several hours since we’ve been here, they can’t sell to us,” said an angry youth. “They hoard the rice to sell to local market women who later sell it on at exorbitant costs to the public.”

IRIN also reported that ordinary Guineans are becoming increasingly frustrated that many of the benefits doled out to end the general strike are only available to state workers.

Human rights groups have condemned the Guinean government for the death of protesters during the general strike. Citing local NGOs and civil society organizations, Human Rights Watch claimed that security forces in Guinea shot dead, beat and raped civilians during demonstrations on June 12th in Conakry. HRW said the violence by the authorities reflected a pattern of abuse by security forces.

Cholera has also reportedly claimed 133 lives in the country in the last six months. And the rainy season, a magnet for diseases, is about to start.

IRIN also ran an enlightening interview with Mbaranga Gasarabwe, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator in Guinea.

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