Algerians riot over rising price of food
By Roula Khalaf and Javier Blas in London
Rising food prices have provoked riots in Algeria, as frustrated youths grappling with high unemployment clashed with police in several cities, including the capital Algiers.
Shops in some neighbourhoods in the capital were shutting their doors on Thursday afternoon after riots erupted on Wednesday in protest against steep increases in the price of several commodities, including sugar, cooking oil and wheat.
Local media said the unrest followed weeks of simmering anger and small demonstrations over the lack of jobs and housing shortages – youth unemployment reaches more than 20 per cent in spite of Algeria’s hydrocarbon wealth and high oil and natural gas prices.
News agencies reported that dozens of young Algerians in the neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued in the capital stoned a police station and set alight a car dealership. In the north-western city of Oran, a group of youths forced open a warehouse to steal sacks of flour, according to a local daily.
The unrest in Algeria follows youth riots in neighbouring Tunisia last month that were more focused on unemployment. They began in Sidi Bouzid, south-west of Tunis, when an unemployed graduate set himself on fire after police prevented him from selling fruit and vegetables.
Although the number of Algerian rioters was in the hundreds, the unrest spread to cities beyond the capital.
Algeria’s economy has been mismanaged for decades and the country was racked by political turmoil and an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.
The Algerian riots came as the price index of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, which tracks the wholesale cost of several agricultural commodities, including wheat, corn, rice, oilseeds, dairy products, sugar and meats, jumped to a record high.
The Middle East and North Africa region is the world’s largest importer of cereals, particularly wheat, exposing it to higher international prices.
Countries in the region have been trying over the past six months to secure supplies of wheat after Russia and Ukraine imposed export restrictions following crop failures provoked by drought.
Algeria, one of the top 10 wheat importers in the world, will buy 5.3m tonnes of wheat overseas in the 2010-11 season ending in June, up 2.5 per cent from the same period last year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.