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Algeria slashes food prices amid riots

By Nazim Fethi for Magharebia in Algiers – 09/01/11

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Widespread unrest continued to rock Algeria on Sunday (January 9th) as protests continued against rising food prices despite government action to stem the riots.

The Algerian cabinet agreed on Saturday to lower the custom duties and taxes on sugar and other food stuffs by 41% as a temporary act to cut prices. But the measure, which will last through the end of August, did not end days of conflict in the streets between angry youth and security services.

"I can confirm the deaths of three young people in M'sila, Tipasa and Boumerdes," Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said on Saturday, adding that more than 1,000 young people were arrested. The minister also said 736 security officers and 53 demonstrators were wounded in the violent clashes.

The first demonstrations broke out Tuesday night in the westerns suburbs of Algiers. The riots began growing in intensity on Wednesday, with protests in Oran, the country's second largest city. Later on Wednesday evening, the unrest spread to the working-class district of Bab El Oued in central Algiers. This set the scene, and one by one, the other working-class districts of the capital followed suit.

By Thursday evening, riots had broken out in a total of 24 of the country's 48 wilayas.

"I was born in the slum, I grew up with promises of being re-housed in decent accommodation," 19-year-old Mohamed told Magharebia. "Nothing, no job, no training, just pick-pocketing and unofficial odd jobs. The state did nothing for me, and this is my way of revenge for that state that ignored me."

An emergency meeting was held on Thursday at the headquarters of the Trade Ministry between with importers and processors of sugar and oil. Trade Minister Mustapha Benbada said that prices would fall next week onwards after his department gave into wholesalers who had refused to pay for goods by cheque, as a new law requires. The traders, who operated illegally, feared having to pay taxes.

"We haven't increased our prices. We are working with old stocks of raw materials," said Issad Rebrab, owner of Cevital, the largest importer and processor of sugar and oil.

Analysing the sudden flare-up of violence, sociologist Nacer Djabi asserted during an interview with daily newspaper Chourouq that this uprising, "even if it is due to economic factors, has political ramifications". He said that the riots would continue for a few days and spread to other regions of the country.

Most politicians have remained silent with regards to the unrest, apart from the Islah (Reform) movement, which has claimed that these protests are the result of the "failure of the social policies pursued by the government".

The ruling National Democratic Rally has accused "special-interest lobbies and speculators" of being behind the wave of riots.

Louisa Hanoune, the chief of the Labour Party, called on the government to establish limits for the prices of essential food item and to open "channels of communication and dialogue with young people".

"Young people do not come out in the street because of rising oil and sugar prices but due to the accumulation of problems, including unemployment and housing crisis," she said.

"The streets have become the only forum for expression at a time when the authorities have chosen not to listen to anyone," Rally for Culture and Democracy MP Othmane Maazouz said.

As far as the rioters are concerned, however, things are clear.

"We're fed up of being ignored all the time. We're fed up of being treated like guinea-pigs. We are telling this government: you've done nothing for us, we don't recognise you anymore," shouted Hamid, an unemployed man from Bab El Oued who said he has only known "terrorism and Bouteflika" throughout his lifetime.

Slogans hostile to the Algerian president were chanted by young people up and down the country. The rioters, whose average age is no more than 25, have been repeating the same battle-cry: "hogra (injustice), unemployment and high cost of living".

The young protesters are mainly operating at night due to the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras, especially in Algiers. However, in several areas of the city, these cameras have been destroyed by the rioters.

The situation remains tense across the country and police officers are on high alert, especially since major roads are still impassable to traffic, including the East-West Highway. The trains linking the central and western regions of the country have all been cancelled.

Due to fears of violent outbursts, the Algerian Football Federation cancelled all matches that were scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Most traders have emptied their shops for fear of being attacked.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    adel 2011-3-21

    Salam alikum. Retired first seargent (1994, 1997, 2003). We call upon president Bouteflika for his place in our hearts and hearts of Algerians to consider retired soldiers who sacrificed their lives, youth and families for this nation in the black decade. We hope you will take into consideration the terrible and embarrassing suffering of retired soldiers. We have not benefitted from pay rises and indemnities. Our salary doesn’t exceed 15000 Algerian dinars. In 2009, our salary was 12000 Algerian dinars. So how can someone who sacrificed his life get the lowest salaries? We belong to special forces. We call upon the ministry of defense and the president of the republic not to forget our sacrifices during hard times. Algeria won’t mourn as long as special forces are on the lookout. O Lord protect Algeria and stop the plot of plotters! Thank you!


  2. Anonymous thumb

    amal 2011-1-12

    The problem is not just dropping the price under pressure, but also the mafia dictatorship’s contempt, marginalisation, silencing, police infiltration and humiliation of generations of the Algerian people ever since independence, especially given the democratic principles born in the 1988 elections, which it killed in its embryonic stages. It is worthless, so it is time that it is removed to the garbage can of history.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Sivancouver 2011-1-12

    It's time for Amazigh people to lead their land because arabic governments are not doing well for this. The Numidia is rich en oil and gas and they put a hand over it so who is who.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    هارون 2011-1-11

    Algeria is the strongest country!


  5. Anonymous thumb

    miramc 2011-1-11

    This is the first time I read your articles. I found a lot of interesting information about the world. However I am addressing this message mainly with a request to the Algerian people to put an end to the unrest because it is not a peaceful solution and claim in order to get their rights. Finally, let me thank the articles of Magharebia wishing you more success.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    وائل محمد الأمين غندير 2011-1-11

    Sabotage acts are not reasonable. Who is the loser? Ultimately it is the people. There should have been instead a general strike in all sectors or a peaceful demonstration without any sabotage or looting acts. Thank you!


  7. Anonymous thumb

    ABC DEF 2011-1-10

    While profits are important for private companies, people's lives are much more important. Thus, food (essential items) prices should be regulated and subsidized. How? Cevital is already making too much money with its diverse portfolio. Taking advantage of people by squeezing them with high food prices is not acceptable.


  8. Anonymous thumb

    عبد القادر48 2011-1-10

    Salam alikum. Arab peoples are a dormant volcano. Unfortunately, officials know facts but ignore them. They are only concerned about their interests. They know that they accessed power through rigged elections and that people aren’t happy with them and don’t like them. The worst enemies of the people are the elected representatives at all levels. They are incompetent and have no experience in management. They have plunged the country in corruption, bribery, humiliation and discrimination. What happens in Algeria is a succinct message by young people so that they will understand there is no future for these robbers in this country. The only outlet is departure, continuous uprising and death is better than a life of humiliation.


  9. Anonymous thumb

    el nid 2011-1-9

    it is time that all the young people of Arabic nations rise and put an end to the theocracies, kleptocracies and dictatorships that has been pulling the wool over their eyes for so many years... we should give them whole hearted support