Algiers: At least 22 people have died in fighting between Berbers and Arabs in southern Algeria, the bloodiest toll in two years of frequent clashes between the communities, national news agency APS reported Wednesday.
Homes, shops, public buildings, cars and palm groves were set on fire across the region of Guerrara and its main town of Ghardaia, 600 kilometres (370 miles) south of Algiers, as the violence flared on Tuesday and Wednesday.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called an emergency meeting of his top leaders after the clashes, during which he charged the regional commander to "supervise the actions of the security services and local authorities to re-establish public order".
He also asked the prime minister to punish "all violations of the law with diligence and severity" and to ensure the security of people and their goods, his office said in a statement.
APS said 19 people wounded in two days of clashes between Chaamba Arabs and Mozabite Berbers in the M`zab valley had died of their injuries, raising the toll since Tuesday to 22.
Dozens of other people were hurt in the violence, the agency said, and clashes continued on Wednesday around Ghardaia, a UNESCO world heritage site renowned for its traditional white-washed houses and bustling market, and other nearby towns.
Interior Minister Nouredine Bedoui travelled to the stricken region, APS reported, while an AFP correspondent said Algiers-Ghardaia flights were cancelled until Sunday.
"The situation is very serious. This is not just clashes any more, it`s terrorism," a Mozabite leader told AFP, adding that armed "gangs" had seized control of the town`s entrances.
A security source said police reinforcements were sent from Algiers.
The latest round of clashes in M`zab broke out last week, prompting the deployment of anti-riot personnel who have fired tear gas to disperse crowds.
Hundreds of homes and shops, mostly of Mozabites, have been ransacked in and around Ghardaia since centuries-old good ties between the area`s Arabs and Berbers broke down in December 2013, mostly over property disputes and after vandals destroyed a historic Berber shrine.