ALGIERS — Rioting in a working-class area of Algiers on Wednesday over the demolition of illegally built shacks left 22 people hurt, 21 of them police officers, a senior civil protection official said.
“We recorded only one person injured among the civilians and 21 police officers” in the Climat de France housing estate in Algiers’ Oued Koreich district, after the clashes at dawn, said the official from a service attached to the interior ministry who did not want to be named.
At least one demonstrator was injured, a boy of 16 who was reportedly hit in the eye by a rubber bullet. His brother told AFP by telephone that he was undergoing surgery on Wednesday afternoon.
A witness told AFP that two children had been hurt: a baby of seven months said to have been tear-gassed and taken to hospital and a nine-year-old boy who had apparently had an asthma attack, but there was no independent confirmation of the claim.
One witness, Samir, an unemployed jeweller, said police used “blank rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas against the demonstrators.”
Reporters on the spot said the demonstrators replied with iron bars and stones.
Another witness, 60-year-old Mohammed, said he had seen “at least 70 people injured and taken to hospitals (nearby) by individuals”.
But there was no confirmation by other witnesses of this total.
The clashes began in the early morning when bulldozers arrived to demolish illegal shacks in the housing estate located near the defence ministry.
A relative calm had returned by early afternoon as youths armed with stones confronted about 1,000 riot police.
There were traces of burned tyres on the street and the wreckage of a burned-out car.
Government bulldozers demolished about 100 shacks made of corrugated iron and cinder blocks, five of them within the premises of a primary school.
Only five had people living in them, while the others had been under construction since January.
Mohammed said he had been living on the estate since 1962 and his “repeated requests since 1976 had never been taken into account.”
He lives in a “tiny apartment with three rooms with his family of 15.”
According to Samir, those taking part in the protests, most of them young, “have no work, no wealth, though the country is immensely wealthy.”
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika undertook when reelected in 2009 to build a million housing units under the five-year plan ending in 2014, but the project has been slow to get off the ground.
Since the start of this year there have been daily demonstrations after bloody protests over the cost of living which claimed five lives and left 800 injured.
The Algerian government has held several meetings in recent days to study the social and political protests sweeping the north African country, encouraged by the uprisings in the Arab world.
Police in Algeria”s capital have used teargas to disperse a crowd of young men who threw stones and petrol bombs to try to stop bulldozers demolishing dozens of illegally built homes.
Wednesday”s riot was unusually violent and took place at a time when Algerian authorities are wary of any sign of contagion from the unrest elsewhere in the Arab world.
A police spokesman said 50 officers were injured in the clashes. Reporters on the spot said the demonstrators replied with iron bars and stones.
The newspaper El Watan said at least five vehicles had been set on fire, including a police truck attacked by young people.
The confrontation, in the Oued Koriche suburb of Algiers, began when local officials ordered the demolition of more than 30 houses built on publicly-owned land without a permit.
Police in protective gear formed a shield around bulldozers which moved in to demolish the houses, but they came under attack from about 100 young men.
After a few hours all the illegal buildings were knocked down and the confrontation ended.
The shortage of housing is a major problem in Algeria, especially in the capital where the buildings are packed tightly together on hills sloping down to the Mediterranean Sea and where there is fierce competition for living space.
Since the start of this year there have been daily rallies after bloody protests against the cost of living claimed five lives and left 800 injured, involving all social classes.
The authorities subsequently announced a series of measures to meet the demands, including more housing.