Two dead and 400 injured in Algeria riots: minister

Algerian govt mulls reducing food prices


Two people were killed and 400 injured, mostly police, in riots in Algeria linked to rising food costs and unemployment, the interior minister said Saturday as the government scrambled to end the crisis.

Azzedine Lebza,18, was the first reported fatality in the unrest on Friday when he was hit by a bullet in Ain Lahdjel in the M'Sila region, 300 kilometers (180 miles) southeast of Algiers, according to the Arab-language daily El Khabar.

A 32-year-old demonstrator, Akriche Abdelfattah, was also killed on Friday in Bou Smail, a small town 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Algiers, a medical source told AFP.

He died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister, medical officials said.

The reports were not immediately confirmed by the authorities.

According to al-Khabar, 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 the victims' friends were also wounded.

Govt eyes to tack problem

The Algerian government was due to hold a special meeting on Saturday to consider steps to reduce soaring food prices, in an effort to quell violent protests which have broken out across the country.

Algerians have taken to the streets since Wednesday in protest against high unemployment and food price inflation which has seen the cost of staple products like sugar, cooking oil and flour double in recent months.

Authorities are expected to announce measures such as limits on the profit margins traders can make on staple foods.

Fresh rioting broke out in several provinces on Friday. Police were deployed near mosques and authorities suspended soccer matches to try to quell the violence.

"There is a lot of tension in the air. People are afraid. In my neighborhood, this morning there was no bread, no milk, nothing," said pensioner Abdallah Chiboub, 65, who lives in Bab Ezzouar east of Algiers.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, serving his third term, has not made any public comment on the riots. Trade minister Mustapha Benbada has said urgent measures will be taken to alleviate pressure on the population.

"From the start of next week, the situation will get better," Benbada was quoted as saying by state radio.

The government is expected to impose fixed profit margins on widely-consumed goods including edible oil and sugar. The cost of flour and salad oil has doubled in the past few months, reaching record highs, while 1 kg of sugar, which a few months ago cost 70 dinars (27 U.S. cents), is now 150 dinars.

Unemployment stands at about 10 percent, the government says. Independent organizations put it closer to 25 percent. Official data put inflation at 4.2 percent in November.

With oil prices at around $90 a barrel, energy exporter Algeria can afford to spend more on subsidies to overcome the crisis. Its foreign exchange reserves hit $155 billion by the end of 2010.

There is a lot of tension in the air. People are afraid. In my neighborhood, this morning there was no bread, no milk, nothing

Abdallah Chiboub, pensioner