Algeria Vows to Punish Protesters

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Al Jazeera English

Algeria Vows to Punish Protesters

In the wake of deadly protests, the government lowers duties on basic food supplies and cracks down on rioters.

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Algerian protesters throw stones at an anti-riot policeman during clashes which erupted in Belcour district of Algiers' city centre on January 7. Three people have been killed and over 800 injured in riots in Algeria linked to rising food costs and unemployment, Sunday's press quoted the interior minister as saying.(AFP/File/Fayez Nureldine)

Algerian authorities have vowed to punish those responsible for
nationwide food riots in which at least four people were reported killed
and more than 800 injured.

Press reports on Sunday quoted Dahou Ould Kablia, interior minster, saying that troublemakers "will not go unpunished".

He said around 1,000 protestors had been arrested, many of them
minors, during the weekend disturbances, adding that they would appear
before judges beginning Sunday.

Out of the 826 people injured, the minister said 763 were police.

Food duties cut

The government on Saturday said it will cut taxes and import duties
on some staple foods, amid a series of deadly riots that have killed at
least three people.

According to state media, a meeting of
ministers in the capital Algiers agreed to measures which would reduce
the price of sugar and cooking oil by 41 per cent.

"Nothing can
cast doubt on the resolute will of the state, under the direction of the
president of the republic, to intervene whenever necessary to preserve
the purchasing power of citizens in the face of any price increase," a
government statement said.

Algeria has seen three days of unrest
over the rising costs of living and unemployment, which government
figures show standing at about 10 per cent, but which independent
organisations put closer to 25 per cent.

Layachi Ansar, professor of sociology at Qatar University, told Al
Jazeera that the cutting of food taxes and duties was "a superficial
measure" that doesn't address "the deep crisis" going on in Algeria,
connected with the "unequal distribution of wealth - this wealth is
spoilt by corruption, by bad governance and lack of accountability of
government officials and state civil servants".

Protesters killed One of the three people
killed was named as 18-year-old Azzedine Lebza. He was shot dead in Ain
Lahdjel in the M'Sila region, 300km from Algiers, the capital.   "He died in an attempt to break into a police station," Kablia said.

A second demonstrator was killed on Friday in Bou Smail, a small town 50km west of Algiers, he said.

"He was picked up in the street, wounded. A pathologist said he had
died from wounds to the head, but the cause of death has not yet been
established."

A medical official said earlier that the man,
identified in media reports as 32-year-old Akriche Abdelfattah, had been
hit in the face by a tear gas canister.

The third body was found in a hotel burned down by rioters, the interior minister said.

Algiers, which has seen protests in recent days, was calmer on
Saturday, but witnesses reported fresh protests in the Kabylie region.

Mustapha Benbada, Algeria's trade minister, has said urgent measures will be taken to alleviate pressure on the population.

"From the start of next week, the situation will get better," Benbada was quoted as saying by state radio.

But Dalila Hanache, an Algerian journalist with the news website
Echorouk, said that the protests went beyond just rising prices.

"I hear young people in the neighbourhood who say these clashes and
protests are not the result of high food prices only, they think there
are lots of problems in this country - educational, problems in the
health sectors, in all sectors of government," she told Al Jazeera.

'Out of control'

Mohamed Ben Madani, editor of The Maghreb Review, said the situation was "out of control" and that the protests could continue for weeks.

"The government simply ignored the people since they were elected to
office and basically now they [the people] have come out into the
streets asking the authorities to give them jobs and to share the wealth
of the nation," he told Al Jazeera, from London.

"I'm afraid the authorities will more [likely] crack down on those
who are protesting against them rather than giving them what they are
asking for. The minister this afternoon labelled them as 'criminals'."

Mohamed Zitout, a former Algerian diplomat, told Al Jazeera: "It is a
revolt, and probably a revolution, of an oppressed people who have, for
50 years, been waiting for housing, employment, and a proper and decent
life in a very rich country.

"But unfortunately it is ruled by a very rich elite that does not
care about what is happening in the country - because they did not give
people what they want, even though the government has the means to do
so, the people are now revolting."

Young people clashed with police in Algiers and several other towns
across the country on Friday despite appeals for calm from imams.

In Annaba, 600km west of the capital, rioting broke out after Friday
prayers in a poor neighbourhood of the city and continued late into the
night. A local government office was ransacked, according to witnesses.

Protesters also cut down electricity poles during the night, cutting off power to the working class suburb of Auzas.

In Tizi Ouzou, the capital of the eastern Kabylie region, residents
said rioting had spread from the city centre to the outskirts, and
demonstrators burning tyres blocked the main road to Algiers.

 

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