Tens of thousands of people rioted Monday in Somalia's capital, protesting high food prices in local markets and forcing hundreds of shops to close.

Soldiers opened fire on crowds, killing at least two people, witnesses said. Several people were injured in the unrest in Mogadishu, the Associated Press reported from the city.

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Tens of thousands demonstrated against high food prices on Monday in Mogadishu, Somalia. ((Mohamed Sheikh Nor/Associated Press))

The protesters included women and children, who began marching to protest the refusal of traders to accept old 1,000-shilling notes that had been replaced by newer currency by Somalia's interim government.

Soon after, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, smashing windshields of cars and buses.

Rocks also were thrown at shops and chaos erupted at the capital's main Bakara market.

Hundreds of shops and restaurants in southern Mogadishu closed their doors for fear of looting.

Rioting over rising food and fuel prices has broken out in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean in recent weeks as the cost of rice, grain and cooking oil climbs to record levels.

In Haiti, unrest led to the resignation of the prime minister, and the president of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo, has promised to put food hoarders in jail.

Affluent customers, crop shortfalls, export restrictions blamed

The soaring cost of food is blamed on increasing demand from affluent Indian and Chinese consumers, as well as crop shortfalls and export restrictions by rice-exporting nations.

The United Nations has set up a special, high-level task force to co-ordinate relief efforts, and many rich countries, including Canada, have announced big increases in food aid.

On Monday, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade urged the UN to dismantle its Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, saying the agency is an ineffective money pit that failed to help avert the global food crisis.

"This institution has its actions duplicated by others, apparently more efficient," Wade said. "They are a money pit largely spent functioning with very few effective operations on the ground."

The cost of food worldwide has increased about 40 per cent on average since mid-2007. In parts of Africa, prices of some staple foods have increased more than 50 per cent in a matter of weeks.

In Mogadishu, the price of a kilogram of corn meal has jumped to 25 cents US from 12 cents US in January, and a 50-kilogram sack of rice has risen to $47.50 US from $26 US.

With files from the Associated Press