Rumblings of discontent in Algeria’s Bejaia
Tunis - Demonstrators in the north-eastern Algerian town of Bejaia clashed with riot police, burning a police truck, a bus and damaging buildings in protest against rising commodity prices.
Local media reported several policemen and protesters were injured.
However, most cities and villages remained quiet, even in the restive Berber-speaking Kabylie, which has often joined protests in Bejaia.
An anonymous statement had called for a seven-day strike by local businesses over price increases and austerity measures in Algeria’s 2017 budget. The call went viral on social media.
People across Algeria rushed to markets, emptying shelves of essential goods.
Political experts compared the atmosphere surrounding the call for the strike to the social climate that led to riots in October 1988. Rising prices, the high rate of unemployment among young people and austerity measures announced by the government were the main reasons then for the unrest.
The violent protests were also due to falling oil prices in the preceding years, as it is the case now with slow economic and political reform, as well as the deep social frustration.
Bejaia followed the strike call with a vengeance, apparently because of the strong support there for the separatist Autonomy Movement for Kabylie led by singer-turned-politician Ferhat Mehenni.
Algeria is gripped with anger about the effects of the austerity measures and the future of the country during a year of legislative elections.
Under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s reforms, the next government will be formed by the winner of the polls but there is unlikely to be much change in the status quo as the country’s leaders see preserving stability as the priority.
“Widespread social discontent gripped society because of the austerity measures and rising prices,” said political analyst Hamid Saidani.
Because of the local currency weakness, due to shrinking oil export revenues, local prices have risen more than 6% in the last year. The head of parliament’s budget committee, Mahjoub Bedda, said he expected prices to increase up to 9% this year because of austerity measures.
Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui blamed “domestic enemies of the state” for Bejaia’s riots and urged Algerians to come together to protect the country’s stability and security.
“We are in a very particular conjuncture. Without security and stability nothing can be done,” he said.