Reuters International

MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambican security forces deployed on the streets of the capital Maputo on Thursday after rumours of planned anti-government demonstrations circulated on social media, witnesses said.

Several anonymous messages spread via SMS and Whatsapp said groups were planning to march on Friday against government corruption, in particular secret borrowing that could cripple the economy in one of the world's poorest countries.

Armoured vehicles packed with police armed with automatic weapons were stationed on major street corners although there was no sign of unrest, two witnesses told Reuters.

Police on Wednesday told the public not to do anything to unsettle "harmonious coexistence" in the war-scarred former Portuguese colony.

"We will not tolerate any conduct that undermines the order, security and public tranquillity," a police statement said.

At the root of the public anger is as much as $1.35 billion (£924.3 million) in loans taken out in secret by state companies, one of which is owned by the interior and defence ministries and state security agency.

On Thursday, Britain followed the IMF and World Bank in suspending aid payments in light of a "serious breach of trust" created by the recently disclosed borrowing, which analysts say could ultimately trigger a debt default.

Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario told a news conference that total foreign debt now stood at $9.89 billion, an increase of $250 million from previous estimates that takes total external borrowing to around 80 percent of GDP.

According to the AIM state news agency, Rosario also said that information on the loans "should have been shared in good time with the Mozambican people and with the international cooperation partners, including the IMF and the World Bank".

He blamed the previous administration of President Armando Guebuza for failing to come clean on the extent of foreign borrowing, as well as political tensions after Guebuza stepped down last year.

Mozambique's currency, the metical, plunged more than 4 percent amid concerns the aid withdrawal could contribute to an already yawning current account deficit and even hinder Maputo's ambitions to develop vast off-shore gas-fields.

The metical had fallen to 55 to the dollar by 1131 London time, close to a lifetime low of 58.34 hit in late November, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Reporting by Ed Cropley and Joe Brock,; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Ed Osmond and Andrew Heavens)


 Reuters International