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Algeria in turmoil as riots stretch over third day

Algerian protesters angered by rising food prices and widespread unemployment have clashed with police in a third day of rioting that has highlighted growing anxiety among the country's youth.


AFP - Algerian youths clashed with police Friday as new protests broke out in the capital and other towns despite calls for calm after days of unrest linked to rising food costs and unemployment.

In Algiers, the western city of Oran, and Tebessa and Annaba in the east, youths hurled stones and bottles at police who responded by firing water cannons and tear gas in unrest that has spread into a quarter of the country's departments.

Violence also erupted in Tizi Ouzou, the main city of Algeria's Kabylia region, where youths set up barricades and blocked roads.

"We do not have work or a future. And now we can't even eat," said an 18-year-old protester in the capital's Bab el Oued area who gave his name as Johnny.

"We have to use violence" because it is the only language "they" understand, he said. "They want us to listen to them but they do not listen to us."

Abdelnour, who is 24, unemployed and a father, echoed him, saying: "The youth of today... are much more violent.

"They have all to gain if they snatch the money of the wealthy, who have fattened themselves with oil money," he added.

Algiers has seen the worst of the violence with groups of young men said by witnesses to be armed with Molotov cocktails, sticks and swords smashing shops and vehicles, torching a bus and barricading roads with burning tyres.

"Why are they doing this?" an elderly woman asked an AFP correspondent Friday as authorities cleared away the debris from overnight rioting.

"Yesterday I cried at home. Young people have a reason but they shouldn't be reacting like this," she said.

Police deployed outside mosques, a university, government offices and other areas Friday as the national football league postponed all premier, second and amateur division soccer matches scheduled for the weekend.

Imams called for calm, following the government line. Islam is the state religion.

"The destruction of property is proscribed by religion," said one imam, calling on parents to persuade their children not to resort to violence.

In the first official reaction, Youth and Sports Minister Hachemi Djiar appealed for a halt saying "violence has never had results, not in Algeria or anywhere else, and our youth know that."

Algeria "has the means to take care of its youth and that is what it is doing through various development projects," he said.

About 75 percent of Algerians are under the age of 30, and 20 percent of the youth are unemployed, according to the International Monetary Fund.

El-Watan newspaper reported that several people had been wounded in the Algerian clashes, but the official media has made no comment and authorities have only assured that they are tackling the spike in costs.

Commerce Minister Mustapha Benbada announced that government officials would meet Saturday to find ways to halt a spike in the costs of basic food items.

The prices of items such as sugar, oil, flour and cereals have shot up in Algeria by between 20 and 30 percent since the start of the year, blamed on a worldwide trend but also new regulations on wholesalers and retailers.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in Rome that global food prices had hit their highest level ever with surging costs of cooking oil, cereal and sugar in particular to affect millions of people.

Unemployment among young university graduates and rising costs have also been behind nearly three weeks of unrest in neighbouring Tunisia, sparked by the self-immolation of a 26-year-old man in a protest. He died on Tuesday.

Three other people have died in the Tunisian unrest, including at least one other by committing suicide, according to reports.


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