Egyptians Wait in Lines for Bread

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Clashes have been breaking out among Egyptians waiting in long lines for subsidized bread.

The president has ordered the army to start baking more to contain a political crisis.

The turmoil in the world's most populous Arab country, a top U.S. ally, is a stark sign of how rising world food prices are roiling poorer countries.

Government bakeries sell subsidized versions of the flat, round bread that is a staple of people's diets.

Acute shortages of subsidized bread, which is sold at less than one U.S. cent a loaf, have caused hours-long lines and violence at some sites in poor neighborhoods in recent weeks.

Seven Have Died

At least seven people have died, according to police. Two were stabbed in fights between customers in line, and the rest died of exhaustion or other medical problems aggravated by waiting in the spring heat.

Independent and opposition parties have been sharply critical of President Hosni Mubarak's government, calling the long lines a sign that his government is failing.

Demand for the subsidized bread has grown steadily in recent months as rising commodity prices - especially for flour - have made unsubsidized bread less affordable.

More than 20 percent of Egypt's 76 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Unsubsidized bread can sell for 10 to 12 times the subsidized price.

The supply of subsidized bread has been decreasing. Many people in Egypt believe subsidized bakeries sell some of their flour on the black market rather than make bread.

Army Opening Bakeries

In recent days, the army has opened 10 large bakeries in Cairo to produce cheap bread and has set up about 500 kiosks to sell bread to the public, said Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Meselhi.

Some fear the crisis could mirror riots in 1977 that killed at least 70 people after the government hiked the price of bread and other subsidized foods.

Egypt grows about half of the more than 14 million tons of wheat it consumes every year.

It has also long been one of the top importers of U.S. wheat, using about $54 million of some $2 billion a year in U.S. aid to buy it.

But its U.S. purchases have been falling as it searches for cheaper sellers on the world market, where prices have tripled in the last 10 months.

Source: The Associated Press

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