Algeria sees calm after four days of violent riots

2011-01-10

Life is gradually returning to normal in Algeria after four days of violence that left five dead and 800 wounded, including 763 police officers, according to figures released by Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia on Saturday evening.

In addition to the three previously reported deaths, a fourth person was shot and killed on Saturday in Tiaret, 340km west of Algiers, while trying to defend his bar against a group of rioters. A fifth died Sunday.

The government responded to the demonstrations by cutting food prices at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia on Saturday. The measures included a 41% reduction in taxes and import duties on some food items.

The price reductions will be in place by the end of the week, according to Trade Minister Mustapha Benbada. Speaking on Sunday (January 9th), the minister said the price of a kilogram of sugar would fall to 90 dinars from 135 dinars and the cost of a can of five litres of oil would fall to 600 dinars from a peak of 980 dinars.

The protests began late on January 5th in response to rising food prices and quickly spread across the country.

During the four days of unrest, rioters attacked government buildings, banks, schools, post offices, libraries, street lights, luxury shops, appliance stores and car dealerships. The demonstrators ransacked everything in their path and looted some items.

On the whole, the situation is now becoming calmer, even though the fate of the young rioters who have been arrested is still uncertain. The interior minister vowed that these acts “cannot go unpunished”, adding that the damage was “immense”. Ould Kabila said that those “involved in causing serious injuries and in attacks against citizens will be the responsibility of the criminal courts and will be judged”.

He claimed that “the recent period of violence is over”, even though more incidents were still being reported. “We believe that this is now behind us,” the minister said in a statement to AFP.

“At present, there are still a few minor incidents occurring in Boumerdes, Bejaia and Tlemcen, but things are getting back to normal”, he noted.

Attempting to analyse the behaviour of the demonstrators, the minister said that these young people grew up in a context of violent conflict between the security services and armed Islamist groups.

They are young “nihilists and pessimists”, Ould Kablia asserted. He added that “this generation is different from the previous ones, clearly with the same poor living standards but with a bigger dose of violence that came along during the 1990s.”

With calm restored, traders in Algiers finally began to return to their businesses. Long queues can now be seen outside bakeries and petrol stations that do not have adequate supplies of flour and fuel. Trains, which had been cancelled since Thursday, began departing from Algiers and the rest of the country again on Sunday, the National Railway Transport Company (SNTF) announced.

In Bordj El Kiffan, an eastern suburb of Algiers, a school was among the places ransacked.

“We’re trying to put the furniture back to where it was so that the children can return to school as soon as possible,” lamented Mohamed, a primary school teacher.

In the district of Bananiers, a brand-new labour inspectorate office was destroyed. Signs of violent destruction may be seen everywhere in the wake of the recent riots. On some roads, traces left by burnt tyres bear witness to the passing of protesters who blocked traffic with barricades.

Mustapha Bouchachi, chief of the Algerian League for the Protection of Human Rights (LADDH), spoke of a “political system that has closed off all outlets for expression. The state of emergency that has been in force since 1992, when the Islamist terror was at its peak, prohibits demonstrations and muzzles opposition parties and NGOs.”

“The violence and damage that characterised these riots have not always been a feature of protest movements in Algeria,” sociologist Nacer Djabi said. He described the protest movement in Algeria as “very unsettled and sporadic”.

“The current protest movement is remaining silent for the moment. We don’t know what it will say, if it will ever have anything to say,” Djabi said.

“We hail the brave decisions taken by the government as regards the 41% cut in the various taxes charged to manufacturers and importers of sugar and oil, because these measures will defuse the situation,” said Salah Souilah, chief of the General Union of Algerian Traders and Artisans (UGCAA).

The president of the Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tahar Kellil, echoed the union’s statements, saying “the departments of the Ministry of Trade must continually monitor the application of these measures at the front line, from January to the end of August and beyond, in a transparent manner by means of checks on importers and wholesalers in order to prevent speculative practices in future.”

“These measures will reassure consumers and quell the tensions of the rioters,” said Mohand Said Nait Abdelaziz, President of the National Confederation of Algerian Employers (CNPA). His only regret was that they were taken so late.

Others, however, were less optimistic.

The problem of inflation has still not been solved,” said Habib Yousfi, President of the General Confederation of Algerian Entrepreneurs (CGEA). In his view, “It is essential to address the issue of inflation and the generalised price rises to enable the purchasing power of citizens to progress in a healthy fashion.”

“You can’t make all outlets for expression inaccessible and then complain about the fact that the streets have become the place where social problems are revealed”, said Said Sadi, head of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy.

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