Algerian president orders 'crackdown' as ethnic clashes kill 22

Algerian president orders 'crackdown' as ethnic clashes kill 22
Rioting and fighting between Algeria's Arab and Berber communities has left at least 22 dead, as the president convenes an emergency meeting with security chiefs.
2 min read
09 July, 2015
Clashes between Berber and Arab youth are frequent in Ghardaia [AFP]
As many as 22 people are now reported to have died following rioting and ethnic violence in an Algerian desert city.

Ghardaia, which sits on the edge of the Sahara, witnessed fierce clashes on Tuesday and Wednesday between Arab and Berber youth.

Homes and shops were burnt down and palm groves set ablaze as fighting erupted in the ethnically mixed oasis town.

The Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika held an emergency meeting yesterday with ministers and security chiefs in the capital Algiers to restore order.

Army commanders have since been tasked with "supervis[ing] the actions of the security services and local authorities to re-establish public order", while the prime minister was told to punish "all violations of the law with diligence and severity".

It has been reported that a three-point plan has been formulated to deal with the recurring problems of ethnic tensions in the UNESCO heritage city, famed for its distinctive whitewashed homes.

The plan includes security, justice and development measures, and places civil and security matters into the hands of the region's army commanders - effectively putting the city under emergency law.

Flights from Algiers to the city have also been cancelled until at least Sunday, while Algeria's Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui visited the city yesterday morning to assess the situation.

Fighting broke out on Tuesday, with most of the violence confined to the town of Guerrara in Ghadaia province, with projectiles responsible for most of the deaths.

Ethnic tensions

Algerian daily El Watan reported that gunfire was heard while "masked hordes on big motorbikes were combing neighbourhoods of Guerrara and seeding terror among the population".

Ghardaia has seen a number of fierce clashes between Chaamba Arabs and Mozabite Berbers in recent years owing to competition over scarce jobs, land and housing.

The communities are also religiously divided along religious lines - Sunni Arabs and Ibadi Berber.

Tensions first arose in the 1960s when Arab Bedouin tribes were encouraged to settle in Berber-majority areas such as Ghardaia, and clashes between the two communities continue to erupt frequently.

In February, gangs of Arab and Berber high school children armed with knives, stones and iron bars, fought in the town, resulting in several deaths and the destruction of homes and businesses.