Algerian disturbances spread

Two protesters have died in the Algerian riots, according to the interior minister. As in Tunisia, the disturbances (which started in Algiers) have become widespread. Unrest has been reported in Skikda, Sale, Constantine, Batna, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Tebessa, Guelma and Annaba, the BBC says. It continues: 

"Clashes also erupted for the first time on Friday in Annaba, about 550km (350 miles) east of the capital, and Tizi Ouzou, the main city of Kabylia province. There was also fresh violence in the second city of Oran ... On Saturday, youths resumed their protests in Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia, also in Kabylia province, and in Constantine."

Al-Jazeera adds

"In Annaba ... 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."

As in Tunisia, the initial trigger for the protests was economic – high prices and unemployment – but there is also more generalised discontent directed at the regime.

"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," Mohamed Ben Madani, London-based editor of The Maghreb Review told al-Jazeera. 

He described the situation as "out of control" and said the protests could continue for weeks.

"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," he continued. "The minister this afternoon labelled them as 'criminals'."

Meanwhile, a former Algerian diplomat, Mohamed Zitout, a 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."

The Algerian authorities have cancelled this weekend's football matches in an effort to reduce the risk of trouble and Friday sermons appealed for calm (presumably at the government's behest).

According to official media, a meeting of government ministers on Saturday agreed to a package of measures that includes reducing the price of sugar and cooking oil by 41%.

There is a lengthy discussion of the Algerian riots, and politicians' response to them, on the Moor Next Door blog.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 Jan 2011.