Algeria set for crisis talks

Government officials to hold meeting after one protester dies in the latest violence over rising prices.

    At least one person has been reported dead after clashes between police and protesters turned violent [Reuters] 

    Algerian government officials are set to meet to finds ways to halt a rise in the costs of basic food items that sparked protests in the capital and other towns this week.

    An inter-ministerial council will in particular look at laws related to competition and commercial practice, and the definition of profit margins, Mustapha Benbada, the country's commerce minister, said on Saturday.

    Ministry officials and producers were also due to meet to make input into new regulations on profits, Benbada said.

    At least one person was reported dead after clashes between protesters and police turned violent.

    The El Khabar newspaper, citing local sources, said that one young man had been killed in clashes on Friday in the city of Msila, about 250km southeast of the capital.

    Azzedine Labz died instantly, hit by a bullet after the intervention of security forces who tried to prevent protesters ransack buildings public in the town of Ain El Hadjel, the paper reported.

    Shots fired

    Security forces tried to prevent protesters from entering the headquarters of Ain El Hadjel post office and the municipal council, but the protesters challenged them and broke into both offices.

      Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reports on the violence in Algeria

    Young protesters pelted police with stones and blocked access to the area.

    As a result, police fired and shot dead Labz, while three others were transferred to a clinic in the same municipality.

    Police were deployed outside mosques and a university in Algiers on Friday after fresh rioting had erupted the previous night.

    Elsewhere, rioters clashed with police in Annaba, a coastal city 500km east of Algiers, on Friday following the afternoon prayer, the Algerian daily newspaper El-Watan reported.

    Protests continued in Oran in the west on Friday, where the protests first began two nights ago.

    Meanwhile, France has called on its nationals in Algeria or those travelling there to be careful of the possibility of "major unrest" there.

    Hachemi Djiar, the Algerian youth and sports minister, said on Friday that "violence has never brought results, either in Algeria or elsewhere, and our young people know that".

    Protests were also reported in the cities of Annaba and Laghouat, 700km south of Algiers, witnesses said.

    But cities with oil or gas facilities are calm for now.

    "In Hassi Messaoud, it is business as usual. All is quiet here," a resident told Reuters news agency.

    Oil threatened

    Hassi Messaoud is Algeria's biggest oil field producing an estimated 300,000 barrels per day.

    Analysts say the protests are still far from dragging the oil and gas-producing nation back to the sort of political upheaval of the 1990s that caused 10 years of civil strife.

    Hundreds of youths clashed with police in several Algerian cities earlier this week, and ransacked stores in the capital.

    On Wednesday, riot police used tear gas to disperse youths in the Algiers neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued, where the most violent of the protests occurred. 

    The Algerian Soccer Federation postponed Friday's league fixtures to prevent the organisation of rallies, which the country has banned under emergency law in force since 1992.

    The cost of flour and salad oil has doubled in the past few months, reaching record highs, and 1kg of sugar, which a few months ago cost 70 dinars (27 US cents), is now 150 dinars.

    Unemployment stands at about 10 per cent, the government says, but independent organisations put it closer to 25 per cent.

    Official data put inflation at 4.2 per cent in November.

    Political unrest

    Mohamed Zitout, a former Algerian diplomat, told Al Jazeera that the government was "giving a very distorted picture".

    "Simply because they have the upper hand on local media and international media, they continue to give a very distorted version about what is going on there," Zitout said.

    "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.

    Zitout said that with the internet and satellite TV stations, Algerians "now know that this regime cannot be maintained and I think that Algeria can never be the same."

    Algeria is now a democracy, but the FLN remains in power. Opposition parties argue there is little space for them to participate in the political sphere.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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