Fresh unrest has taken place in Algeria as protests over rising costs and unemployment spread after a night of rioting in Algiers, the capital, in which youths attacked a police station and torched shops.
Authorities rushed police reinforcements to several towns on Thursday, where hundreds of youths took to the streets.
Youths blocked major regional roads around Boumerdes, about 60km east of Algiers, and Bejaia, 200km further east, the online edition of the El-Watan newspaper reported.
Authorities sent in “a large number of convoys of anti-riot police,” it said.
Protests have been reported at the Martyrs’ Square, Balkor, Bash Jarrah, Babal Wadi and Astawali, while both Jalfa in southern Algeria and Wahran in the west also witnessed violent rallies in protest over the deteriorating living conditions and rising prices.
Neighbouring Tunisia was also struck by more protests in a wave of similar unrest.
Shops in the Algerian capital shut early after rioting late on Wednesday in which dozens of youths hurled stones at a police station in the Bab el Oued area, set alight several shops and barricaded roads with flaming tyres.
|YouTube user hchicha posted this video of men throwing rocks at police
“They hurled stones at the anti-riot police in the area,” a resident told the AFP news agency by telephone.
A dealership for Renault, a carmaker from former colonial ruler France, was attacked and torched, and about a dozens of its vehicles destroyed, an AFP photographer said.
A top-end shoe shop even cleared its shelves ahead of nightfall on Thursday.
“We are closing to wait and see what will happen,” an employee said.
A similar demonstration was held on Wednesday in Oran, 430km west of the capital, where protesters burned tyres, blocked roads with tree trunks and hurled objects at drivers, the Oran Daily reported.
Youths forced open a warehouse to steal sacks of flour, it said, with the cost of flour among those that have risen in recent days.
Demonstrators blocked roads on Monday in Tipaza, west of the capital, in protest against food prices and difficult living conditions.
There have been similar protests, some turning violent and resulting in injuries, across the country for months, focused on costs, employment, lack of social housing and allegations of corruption.
The General Union of Algerian Traders and Artisans said prices had risen between 20 and 30 per cent in recent days, with the costs of sugar and oil up sharply since the start of the month.
In an attempt to calm the rising anger, Mustapha Benbada, the commerce minister, said on Wednesday that the food price rises were not unique to Algeria but part of a worldwide trend.
“The state will continue to subsidise essential items,” he said.
About 75 per cent of Algerians are under the age of 30, and 20 per cent of the youth are unemployed, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the country’s president, pledged in 2009 to build a million apartments not replaced since a 2003 earthquake, while growth of the population – which has tripled to 35.6 million since independence from France in 1962 – has added to strains on the availability of housing.
“I fear that the situation will explode,” Mohammed Saib Musette, a sociologist at the Research Centre of Applied Economy for Development, said.
“There is a contagion effect, mainly when we think about what has happened with Tunisia.”
A wave of demonstrations against unemployment and the cost of living erupted in Tunisia on December 17 after a university student set himself alight in a protest. He died of his wounds on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, thousands of Tunisian lawyers joined protests on Thursday after weeks of disturbances that have rattled the government.
The two north African countries, along with Morocco, are in a similar situation in that they have been unable to accommodate their young graduates and suffered in the global economic crisis, analysts said.
“In these three countries, there have been efforts in the area of education but they did not think of ways to integrate young graduates into the community, an integration that happens through employment,” Driss Benali, an economist from Rabat’s Mohammed V University, said.