Clerics call for calm after Algeria riots

Fresh rioting erupts in Algeria over rising prices and unemployment.

Algiers: Clerics called for calm in Friday prayers in Algeria after fresh rioting erupted overnight, following days of protests over rising prices and unemployment.

Police were deployed outside mosques and a university in the Algerian capital, while the national football league postponed all top-level weekend soccer matches after the riots in Algiers and a dozen other areas.

One imam in a broadcast sermon said calm was vital for the development of the country, and called on parents to persuade their children not to resort to violence.

"The destruction of property is forbidden by religion," he said in a so-far rare public acknowledgement of the violence that would have followed the government`s line, with Islam the state religion.

"The true believer builds, he does not destroy," he said.

Some 40 youths armed with swords attacked businesses in the city`s El Biar area late Thursday, emptying a jewellery store before security forces arrived, local reporters and witnesses said.

There was also a second night of clashes in the volatile Bab el Oued suburb, with police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators, witnesses said. One witness said youths had hurled Molotov cocktails.

Police positioned around mosques in Bab el Oued, Belcourt and Bachjarrah, poorer areas of the city, in case of more unrest after Friday prayers, according to reporters on the scene.

There was also extra security at a police station, a new shopping mall and a major hotel in an area near Bab Ezzouar airport, while a nearby university was surrounded by security forces.

Travellers said a road between the capital and eastern suburbs on the coast had been blocked since Thursday afternoon after youths set up barricades.

The football league decided to "postpone all meetings scheduled on the weekend of 7 and 8 January 2001 in the first division professional football championship," it said in a statement on its website.

All second division and national amateur division matches were also cancelled, it said.

In line with official silence on the rioting, the statement gave no reason for scrapping the matches.

Authorities cleaned up the debris on Friday after the overnight unrest in Algiers, removing damaged cars at dawn, a report said.

In the Annacer-Diar el Afia suburb, residents said a public bus was also torched, although only burn marks on the road were visible by morning.

"Why are they doing this?" an elderly woman. "Yesterday I cried at home. Young people have a reason but they shouldn`t be reacting like this," she said.

Protests led by small groups of young men have flared in several towns this week, linked to anger about a spike in the costs of basic food items by about 30 percent this month, unemployment and a lack of social housing.

El-Watan newspaper reported that several people had been wounded in the clashes, but the official media has made no comment and authorities have only assured that they are tackling the spike in costs.

Commerce Minister Mustapha Benbada said after meeting with producers and importers of cooking oil and sugar -- which have seen the steepest price hikes -- that his ministry "is beginning to control the crisis" and it would be resolved by next week, national radio reported on Thursday.

About 75 percent of Algerians are under the age of 30, and 20 percent of the youth are unemployed, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Unemployment among young university graduates has also been behind nearly three weeks of unrest in neighbouring Tunisia, sparked by the self-immolation of a 26-year-old man in a protest. He died on Tuesday.

Three other people have died in the Tunisian unrest, including at least one other by committing suicide, according to reports.

Bureau Report

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