Algeria: Riots continue, football matches canceled, clerics call for calm

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP), Friday 7 Jan 2011

Police faced off against rioting youths, Muslim prayer leaders called for calm and authorities canceled football matches Friday as Algeria tried to quell unrest over rising food prices

New clashes between youths and police were reported Friday in the cities of Annaba, Oran, Bouira and Bejaia. El Watan newspaper's Web site showed a photo of a barricade in flames on a main avenue of the city of Tizi Ouzou.

Youths in the North African nation have been rioting for days following sudden price hikes for staples including sugar, flour and oil. There is also generalized frustration that Algeria's abundant gas and oil resources have not translated into broader prosperity.

Many officers patrolled outside mosques in the tense working-class neighborhood of Bab el-Oued, which was calm Friday after days of violence.

An imam who said Friday prayers on Algeria's national radio called for calm, saying serenity is one of Allah's graces and must be preserved -- especially in a country like Algeria, which is still recovering from an Islamic insurgency.

After keeping silent at first, Algeria's government spoke out about the unrest on Friday -- with Sports and Youth Minister Hachemi Djiar calling on angry youths to avoid vandalism and to "dialogue in a peaceful, civilized way."

Violence "has never brought results, either in Algeria or elsewhere, and our young people know that," Djiar said.

The opposition party RCD issued a statement Friday insisting it had "incessantly put out warnings, throughout its structures, about the gravity of the social and political crisis that is dragging on for ages in Algeria."

Violence raged in the country throughout the 1990s after the army canceled 1992 elections that fundamentalists were expected to win. Up to 200,000 people were killed. Bombings and ambushes by extremists continue today, though they are more sporadic.

Algeria's government has stayed largely silent on the riots that have spread this week, while state-run radio and television have cast them as being carried out by isolated groups.

Meanwhile, independent newspapers portrayed the rioters as expressing a generalized malaise. Officially, unemployment is around 11 percent in Algeria, though some researchers say it is more than double that figure.

Commerce Minister Mustapha Ben Bada announced a Cabinet meeting Saturday to search for ways to limit the price hikes in staple foods.

Amid the unrest, Algeria's sports minister canceled football matches scheduled for Friday.

On Thursday, police helicopters circled over Algiers, and stores closed early. Youths torched government buildings, threw stones at police and shouted "bring us sugar!"

Neighboring Tunisia has also seen violent protests in recent weeks over unemployment, leading to three deaths.

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