Russian egg seller's business hurt by inflation

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KLIN, Russia, Nov 7 (Reuters) Zinaida Sidorova tugged her woollen scarf tighter into her neck. The frosty Russian air was cold and trade was slow.

She is 60 and has sold eggs for 12 years at the market in the town of Klin, a two-hour drive north of Moscow, but rising prices have hurt business.

''People complain all the time. They keep asking why? I keep explaining it is linked with rising grain prices,'' Sidorova said from behind the counter of her stall, piled high with eggs of different sizes and colours.

She was talking about soaring food prices in Russia which, weeks before a parliamentary election, are still rising and have forced the Kremlin to impose calming measures.

But it's not Moscow's wealthy who are angry and frustrated.

They may grumble that the price of their favourite a chocolate eclair has jumped to 90 roubles (3.80 dollars) from 50 roubles, but it's the millions of Russians who count each rouble and live mainly in the regions who are feeling the pinch.

This month around 1,500 pensioners marched through Russia's second city of St Petersburg banging frying pans and shouting slogans against President Vladimir Putin.

At Klin's market stray dogs scavenged for scraps between the stalls as shoppers, wrapped in heavy coats and carrying plastic bags, browsed and inspected prices.

Sidorova thrust her hands into the pockets of her coat.

Still no customers. Today 10 eggs from her stall cost 28 roubles compared to 19 roubles only three months ago, she said.

''If before people used to buy 20 eggs, they now buy just 15 and there are less people shopping,'' she said.

Drought, increased demand from China and for crops for biofuels has pushed up the price of grain and wheat around the world. Russia is also coping with an injection of cash from high oil prices.

The government targeted inflation for the year at 6.5 percent to 8 per cent but it has now readjusted to 11 per cent.

And on Dec 2 Russians vote in a parliamentary election which Putin's party, United Russia, is expected to win two-thirds of the vote. There are signs inflation could dent its popularity and the Kremlin has tried to counter it.

BALLET AND BEER A deal with food producers and retailers has frozen prices on basic foodstuffs until next year and a 10-percent tariff has been slapped on wheat exports to try to boost domestic supply.

Outside Klin's market a queue of pensioners lined up behind a goods truck. In exchange for a local administration voucher they receive discounted cabbages, potatoes and carrots.

''The market is much more expensive, especially now. I don't know what I would do without this,'' Viktor, 67 said.

Klin, a town of 80,000 people, has for 11 years run what it says is Russia's only food coupon scheme since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It provides the old and weak with cheap vegetables, and is now in more demand than ever.

Prices are fixed at 7 roubles per kg (2.2 pounds) -- around half the market price in the summer but now a third of the price.

A poll by the VTsIOM group said 82 percent of Russians at the end of October believed inflation had been very high over the last two months. One third said the food they normally buy had risen by 50 percent or more in price.

In his office overlooking Karl Marx street, Klin's regional chief, Alexander Postrigan, said United Russia had a lot of explaining to do but would still enjoy a large election victory.

''Of course voters will think about the criticism a bit but all other suggestions have been unconstructive,'' he said.

Outside the market Katya, a 22-year-old supermarket worker, strolled arm-in-arm with a friend. She had been shopping before heading off to work, and prices had once again crept up.

''It's a huge problem for everybody as wages just can't keep up with the food price rise,'' she said. ''But it's not Putin's fault and I will definitely be voting for United Russia.'' REUTERS ND0940

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