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Food price rises spark sporadic protests

Prices for flat Uzbek bread have almost doubled recently, Uzbekistan, September 2007.
(Alimbek Tashtankulov/IRIN)

Sharp increases in the prices of basic foodstuffs are causing discontent and sporadic protests in Uzbekistan, say rights activists.

“About 100 people staged a protest in Oltioriq District of Ferghana Province on 3 September demanding that the `hokim’ (district head) hear their grievances. It was sparked by recent price rises for bread and flour which are basic staples for Uzbek people,” Surat Ikramov, head of the Independent Initiative Group of Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan (IIGHRAU), a local rights group, said in Tashkent on 4 September.

“Yesterday evening I myself went out to buy bread but couldn’t find any. The situation in the provinces is even worse,” Ikramov told IRIN.

The price of flat local bread has gone up 50-100 percent and the flour imported from Kazakhstan used for baking bread, has almost doubled in price, Ikramov said. “Overall, the prices of main foodstuffs have gone up by around 50 percent,” he said, adding that one kilogram of meat was now about US$6 - up from about $3.75.

According to Ikramov, a schoolteacher or a doctor earns about $70-80, which is considered an average monthly salary in the country, while the minimum monthly salary is only $12.

Ulugbek Usmanov, head of IIGHRAU in Tashkent Province, said the recent protest in Oltioriq in the densely populated Ferghana Valley was related to the increasing cost of living for many families, particularly bread. The Uzbek part of the Ferghana Valley is home to almost a quarter of the country’s 26.5 million population.

“This has badly affected many families, particularly in rural areas, where bread consumption is high due to the inability of people to buy other foodstuffs, and families are large,” Usmanov said.

“What happened in Oltioriq more or less reflects the mood of people in other parts of Uzbekistan. People are unhappy with the situation,” Usmanov said.

Ikramov said there was huge discontent and this had turned into localised sporadic protests like the one in Oltioriq.

The Uzbek news website Uzmetronom.com reported that similar sporadic protests had taken place recently in the cities of Andijon, Namangan and Ferghana - all in the Ferghana Valley.

Mass protests unlikely

But the activists said it was unlikely the discontent would turn into mass protests or an uprising as happened in Andijon a little over two years ago.

Uzbek security forces violently suppressed protests in Andijon on 13 May 2005, reportedly killing up to 1,000 people, mainly unarmed civilian protesters, according to various international and local rights groups. The Uzbek government claimed the death toll was 187.

“The mentality of Uzbek people and their inability to organise means that we are unlikely to see any mass protests. What I foresee is that because many people don’t have much of a choice regarding the difficult socio-economic situation more of them will go to other countries, mainly Kazakhstan and Russia, in search of jobs to keep their families going,” Ikramov said.

“In brief, people’s discontent will turn into a protest with their ‘feet’ - leaving the country in search of income,” he added.

According to the UN in Uzbekistan, poverty - defined as anyone receiving less than 2,100 kilocalories per day - stood at 26.2 percent in 2003. A UN survey showed that the poor in rural areas constituted 28.7 percent, as compared to 22 percent in urban areas. The highest concentrations of poor households were in the southern and northern regions of the country. In the south the poverty rate was almost four times higher than in Tashkent Province.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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