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Mideast uprisings will upset Muslim holy month

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In Syria, protests and the government's violent crackdown on them are expected to escalate during the month ahead, deepening a spiral of violence that has already killed at least 1,600 people since the uprising began in mid-March.

Libya's civil war remains mired in a stalemate, and across the oil-rich OPEC member, the fighting has battered what was once an economy on the cusp of sharp growth.

While Libyans in government-held Tripoli grapple with dayslong gasoline lines and food and cash shortages, rebels in the east have clashed with a rogue faction while battling forces loyal to Gadhafi. In addition, one of the rebels' chief commanders was killed in yet unexplained circumstances after the rebels themselves arrested him.

In much of the Arab world, protesters hope the pressure Ramadan places on food prices will inspire more people to challenge their leaders.

Jordanian activists, for instance, say Ramadan inflation could fuel their campaign aimed at wresting greater reforms from King Abdullah II.
Several Arab governments, meanwhile, are trying to ease economic hardship.

In Bahrain, a tiny island nation off Saudi Arabia's coast where the ruling Sunni minority has been trying to quash an uprising by the majority Shiites, the king ordered increases in the salaries of civil servants, members of the military and retired government employees.

In nearby Qatar, authorities have ordered reduced prices on 267 types of food and other commodities - 100 items more than last year's Ramadan season list of price caps, according to The Peninsula daily.

Such efforts are expensive in nations such as Egypt where the economy has already been hard hit by the unrest.

Food inflation in Egypt stood at 19 percent in June versus a year earlier, double the core inflation rate and slightly higher than pre-revolutionary levels. To offset the blow, the Cabinet announced last week that the government would shoulder 50 percent of the cost of food rations, which tens of millions of Egyptians can buy.

For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Ramadan is another month of hardship.

The Palestinian Authority, reeling from a debt crisis, is paying tens of thousands of people only about half their normal salaries.

"Every year people wait for Ramadan for blessings," said Ayman Al-Hosari, a 47-year-old school teacher in Gaza who has nine children. "But it just gets worse every year."

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