Unrest eases in Algeria as prices drop

ALGIERS (AFP) – Algeria began cleaning up Monday after days of rioting over soaring food costs that left five people dead, hundreds wounded and 1,000 in jail, as authorities firmed up pledges to drop prices.

Businesses, schools and public services opened as normal in much of the country as unrest that kicked off Wednesday last week eased after the government announced after emergency talks that it would rein in prices.

Media reported Monday that about 70 educational institutions were damaged in the clashes, which hit several parts of the capital Algiers and spread to other cities.

However classes started resuming as normal on Sunday, an education ministry official said in the El Watan newspaper.

A number of government buildings were also attacked or set alight, although no figure has been released, and several businesses looted.

Security forces, deployed in strength in several areas, were ordered to show restraint, Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said, adding though that most of the 800 wounded were police or gendarmes.

Authorities had “started to repair what is repairable, with the priority being schools and public establishments,” the minister told AFP, describing the damage as “immense”.

“From our side, we consider that we have turned the page,” he said in an interview Sunday, although scattered incidents were still reported in Boumerdes in the centre of the country, Bejaia in the east and Tlemcen in the west.

“Things are returning to order,” the minister said.

The violence erupted after deep anger at increases in prices for basic goods, some of which have risen by as much as 30 percent since January 1.

Commerce Minister Mustapha Benbada held urgent talks Sunday with economic players who focused on lowering the prices of sugar and cooking oil, the costs of which rose the most steeply this month.

The government also pledged to continue to subsidise the costs of basic foodstuffs and announced on Saturday a temporary cut in customs duties and taxes on sugar and food oils.

The price of a kilogram of sugar is to drop to 90 dinars (about 0.90 euros), from a high of between 1.20 to 1.40 dinars, while five litres of oil was down to 600 dinars (about six euros) after soaring to 900-1,000 dinars.

In oil-and-gas rich Algeria the minimum monthly salary is only 15,000 dinars while the average is around 25,000 dinars, the price of a simple fridge or the rent on a two-room apartment in Algiers.

The unrest in the country, under a state of emergency following a civil war with Islamist extremists in the 1990s, came as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation food price index hit its highest level since it began in 1990.

Witnesses said rioters had started to encounter resistance from among the population, with one of the five killed reportedly a 36-year-old man trying to protect his father’s alcohol store 340 kilometres (210 miles) west of Algiers.

The latest fatality was a 65-year-old taxi driver who died in hospital on Sunday after inhaling tear gas the day before, during clashes between rioters and security forces in the eastern town of Annaba, reports said.

Officials said around 1,100 people were arrested.

Parents of minors involved in the arrested were summoned, and the Algerian League of Human Rights said adults found guilty of involvement in violence or damage faced up to two years in prison.

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