Rioters and Algerian security forces fought street battles for five hours Saturday in the western port city of Oran, witnesses said, while scattered violence was reported in the capital of Algiers.
Oran, the nation’s second-largest city, was already said to be badly damaged by rioting that broke out Friday, several days after the capital was first rocked by violence over sharp price increases in the government’s austerity program.
In a related development, a shadowy Islamic fundamentalist movement claimed responsibility for the rioting and said it would foment further unrest unless its demands are met.
The previously unknown “Movement for Algerian Renewal” called for the ouster of the government and for more and cheaper food.
Other reports indicate that the demonstrators have included dissatisfied and unemployed youths or vandals.
The young--who account for almost two-thirds of Algeria’s population of 23 million--are the most economically disaffected segment of the populace.
Information Minister Bachir Rouis said Saturday night that the number of deaths in the rioting, which began Tuesday in the capital, is unknown. “The losses are not heavy,” he said, but there were “more dead on the side of the demonstrators than security forces.”
According to relatives and hospital sources, however, at least 50 people have died in Algiers.
Late Saturday, Interior Minister Hadi Khediri announced that the “troubles” had spread to the eastern port of Annaba and other unspecified cities. Speaking on state-run radio, Khediri gave few details but said, “The Algerian state is determined to use all means to re-establish calm.”
In Oran, the fire-gutted skeletons of hundreds of cars blocked the streets, witnesses told Reuters news agency by telephone. Shops and offices looted and set afire Friday were still burning, they said.
There were dozens of casualties in the two days of Oran fighting, including some deaths, the witnesses said. There was no independent confirmation of the reports.
There were scattered reports of unrest in the capital, with witnesses reporting that troops opened fire on a crowd outside a mosque and used tear gas in the city center to disperse groups of youths shouting slogans against the government of President Chadli Bendjedid.
Many Algerians returned to work Saturday--a normal workday in this Muslim nation--under tight military surveillance after the spate of rioting spurred the government to declare a state of emergency and order troops to fire on demonstrators.
900 Arrests Reported
The military has reported 900 arrests in the violence. Medical sources have said dozens have been hospitalized.
Major cities were being patrolled by troops in full battle gear, with bayonets fixed to their rifles. The army’s tanks and armored personnel carriers stood at most major intersections and in front of crucial government offices in the capital.
Traffic resumed, but was much lighter than normal for a Saturday. Commuters massed at bus stops, but so many vehicles were burned in the rioting that public transit was almost nonexistent.
Elementary and high schools remained closed, but universities and government offices reopened with no reports of disturbances.
State office workers tried to restore order in government ministries where files were burned or thrown to the winds this week in protests that began over the austerity program.
Prices on basic products, formerly subsidized, have risen as much as 40% since January. The economic crisis has been worsened by the fall in the price of oil, the nation’s main source of revenue.