ALGIERS, (AFP) — Two people were killed and 400 injured, 300 of them police, in riots in Algeria linked to rising food costs and unemployment, Interior Minister Dahou Oul Kablia said Saturday as the government scrambled to defuse the crisis.
One was shot dead on Friday in Ain Lahdjel in the M’Sila region, 300 kilometres (180 miles) southeast of Algiers, the minister said on national radio.
“He died in an attempt to break into a police station,” he added, confirming a report in the Arab-language daily El Khabar, which named the victim as 18-year-old, Azzedine Lebza.
A second demonstrator was killed on Friday in Bou Smail, a small town 50 kilometres (30 miles) 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, 32-year-old Akriche Abdelfattah, had been hit in the face by a tear gas canister.
Kablia said that police had been ordered to show restraint in containing the demonstrations and had been paid for it.
“More than 300 police and gendarmes have been wounded, while on the other side there are fewer than 100 hurt,” he said.
According to El Khabar’s account of the first death, police opened fire as they tried to evict demonstrators who had forced their way into the town’s post office and a government building.
It said three of Lebza’s friends were also wounded.
Youths clashed with police in Algiers and several other towns across the country on Friday despite appeals for calm from imams on the third day of unrest.
In Annaba, 600 kilometres (400 miles) west of Algiers, 17 people were injured, including three policemen, when demonstrators threw stones, according to emergency services and a policeman who asked not to be named.
The rioting, which broke out after Friday prayers in a poor neighbourhood of the city, continued late into the night. A local government office was ransacked, according to witnesses.
Protestors also cut down electricity poles during the night, cutting off power to the working class suburb of Auzas.
Amar circus equipment in Annaba was damaged by rioters but circus staff was safe after fleeing the scene, witnesses said.
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.
Similar protests took place in the Algiers district of Belcourt but the capital was calmer Saturday.
Government ministers were to meet Saturday in a bid to curb the price rises, which in some cases have reached 30 percent since January 1.
They were under pressure from the country’s only officially recognised trade union, which demanded tough measures Friday.
The General Union of Algerian Workers and Trade Minister Mustapha Benbada have accused producers and wholesalers of inflating prices ahead of new measures requiring them to systematically bill for their goods.
In a statement received Saturday by AFP four distributors of cooking oil said they would curtail price rises, while the country’s largest wholesaler, Issad Rebrab, was to give a press conference Saturday.
Youth and Sports Minister Hachemi Djiar has also called for peaceful dialogue.
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. Many are well-qualified but cannot find work.
The unrest in a country which is still under a state of emergency in the wake of a civil war with Islamist extremists in the 1990s, comes as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s food price index hit its highest level since it began in 1990.