Random highlights from the Algerian media - because English speakers need to follow Algeria news too

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bombs, GSPC chiefs, and amnesty

Liberte: Cellphone-activated bomb explodes near train station in the town center of Boumerdes, wounding two policemen and two passersby and provoking panic. A fake bomb had been placed 17 metres away, presumably in the hope of luring policemen to the area.

Meanwhile, El Watan claims that 50-odd GSPC chiefs have been eliminated in the past month, of whom the most important was Abbas "Selmane" Boubekeur, head of the Al Ansar Brigade, killed last Friday in the forests between Azazga and Yakouren. They also mention another Al Ansar Brigade emir, Boumis Redouane, of the forests of Bouberak and Mizrana near Dellys; "Abou Omeir" Houari Youcef, head of zone 6, including Skikda and the Babor mountains; and a GSPC mufti, Makhlouf Ammar "Abou Al Barrâa".

El Khabar notes that a total of 408 guerrillas have surrendered and received amnesty under the National Reconciliation Act; 125 of them had already been arrested.

Union chiefs arrested

El Khabar (EN), Ech Chourouk, El Watan, Liberte: Three unionists from the National Higher Education Union (CNES), a split union of university teachers most of who have been on strike for higher salaries since May 13, have been arrested following a Ministry of Higher Education complaint that they were still striking despite a judicial decision banning the strike. Farid Cherbal, the deputy national coordinator, came before a judge at Harrach court in Algiers today; he was charged with inciting an illegal strike and disobeying a judicial decision. The gallery was filled with supporters from Bab ez-Zouar University and other institutes.

Khaled Bessila, CNES coordinator for Constantine's Mentouri University, was arrested on charges of disobeying a judicial decision, slander, and incitement to strike; he was sent back home at 2am this morning, but remains under judicial surveillance. Mustapha Mechab, regional coordinator for the west, was arrested by plainclothes policemen leaving his home in Sidi-bel-Abbes, after having been suspended from his post in the science faculty of Sidi-bel-Abbes University.

On May 10, the courts declared the strike illegal under law 14/90, which obliges every union to present a list of members which includes at least 20% of the company's permanent workers. (El Watan) The national committee of the union decided to end the strike on May 17th, obeying the judicial decision; they had removed Cherbal and Mechab from their posts (El Watan). However, a substantial proportion of the union refused to accept the verdict, nor the removal of Cherbal and Mechab, and has remained on strike. The local branches of CNES have condemned the arrest, while the national council remains silent.

The arrests were condemned by the FFS, El Islah, HMS (MSP), the Workers' Party, and the Socialist Workers' Party. El Islah representative Lakhdar Benkhalaf asked rhetorically: "Why are strikes organised by the central union [the UGTA, the sole officially recognized union] legal, while strikes organised by independent unions never are?"

If you have more free time than I do, the relevant Algerian laws should be available at LexAlgeria.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tamazight (Berber) language teaching in Batna

El Watan: About 40 teachers of Tamazight in the Aures attended a seminar set up by the HCA (High Commission for Amazighity). The Batna director of education announced that Tamazight classes had been set up in mountainous areas of the wilaya, and were being taken by 584 primary school students and 782 high school students in six high schools. In Batna, a wilaya with more than 377,000 people of school age (ONS 1998) where, according to the inspector Benaggoun, "90%" of people speak Tamazight, this tiny figure was blamed on budget shortages which prevented the hiring of enough teachers.

18,000 foreign workers in Algeria (mainly from China and Egypt)

Ech Chourouk, Liberte: Minister of Employment and National Solidarity Djamel Ould-Abbes reports that there are 18,191 foreign workers in Algeria - in 1999, there were only 543. 45% of them are Chinese, 11% Egyptian, with another 3% from each of Italy, the Philippines, the US, and France. 65% of them are in Algiers, Ouargla, Oran, or Adrar. Both note that, under law n° 81-10 of July 1981 and presidential decree n° 03-251 (2003), foreign workers are entitled to the same rights as Algerians (including social security, unions, and schooling for their kids), while employers are obliged to ensure their repatriation when their contract becomes void. Ech Chourouk makes its position rather clear in its headline: "While millions of Algerian youths suffer unemployment, more than 18,000 foreign workers invade the Algerian labour market". However, Ould-Abbes states that the foreign workers are necessary to fill gaps in the labour market, given Algeria's current rapid (hydrocarbon-price-fuelled) growth.

Thenia demonstrators behind bars

El Khabar, El Watan: 15 demonstrators at Thenia (Boumerdes, Algeria) have been placed under arrest in Harrach jail in Algiers, charged with destruction of other people's property, destruction of State property, infringement of a constituted body, arson, and infringement of public order. The people of Thenia have contacted lawyers, who described the arrest as "severe and unexpected". The streets of Thenia are now quiet, being full of anti-riot forces. The detainees include a 55-year-old English teacher and a person who lost his mother and four sisters in the earthquake, rendering him head of what remains of the family. A local interviewed by El Watan said that the town's anger had been building up for two years before its recent escalation.

The Friday demonstrations in Thenia took place when supporters left the stadium after the local football club lost its match with Lakhdaria. El Khabar says that the rioters destroyed telephone poles, burned the local cultural center and telephone booths, threw stones at the town hall, and blocked the road. As El Watan tells it, the demonstrators deny any connection with football, speaking instead of jobs, housing, development, and care for the earthquake victims; according to El Khabar, the initially football-related riots rapidly turned into political protests about the marginalized state of Thenia, arguably the town hardest hit by the 2003 earthquake, protesting delays in housing development and repairs. The town remains in a sad state, according to El Khabar: ruined buildings everywhere and garbage in the streets.

Thenia's mayor has told El Watan that he has gotten the message, and will do his best to calm down the inhabitants. Interviewed in El Watan, Ali Bendrici, governor of Boumerdes, insists that the earthquake victims of Thenia have not been forgotten, and are being taken care of. Specifically, he says that in Thenia 2654 of 2697 damaged houses have been taken care of, and 309 of "more than" 614 destroyed houses have received reconstruction aid, leaving only 300 in need of rehousing, of whom 164 have already been rehoused. He acknowledges, however, that reconstruction efforts at Bordj-Menaiel have gone badly, as a result of which the contractors have been changed.

(See also: Boumerdes residents tired of chalets)

Shoot-outs east of Boumerdes

Liberte, El Watan: Police brigade kill Bounis Redouane (32), described by Liberte as head of the Mizrana "maquis", in a shoot-out in Sidi el-Medjni, just west of Dellys; two policement were lightly wounded. He had been at large since 1994 (Liberte) or for five years (El Watan). Meanwhile, either one or two guerrillas were killed by a special security unit from Algiers at Yakouren, while four escaped.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Boumerdes residents tired of "chalets"

(The 2003 earthquake destroyed many homes in the Boumerdes area; their residents were moved as soon as possible from tents to "chalets", little mass-produced metal residences intended as medium-term accommodation for while houses got rebuilt or built.)

El Watan: Following demonstrations in Thenia this weekend, some 200 people living in the chalets, demonstrated in front of the town hall in Bordj-Menaiel, complaining about delays in providing accommodation and inadequate conditions, and saying the chalets have been doing duty for too many people too long. I suspect this has something to do with El Khabar's report that a bureaucrat was suspended for accepting a bribe of 8000 DA in Bordj-Menaiel for changing the name under which a chalet was registered.

Algeria's union head says higher pay coming

El Watan, Liberte: Abdelmadjid Sidi Said, head of Algeria's main (only legal?) union, the UGTA, claims to have secured government agreement on the issue of raising salaries, and assures members that unpaid salaries will be taken care of by early June. He says Belkhadem is discussing the issue with them, and reiterates that the workers are entitled to more.

Joint Algerian-NATO navy maneuvers

El Watan, Liberte: The Algerian ship El Kirch participated in a naval exercise called "Phœnix Express-06" with the American 6th Fleet. The NATO exercises, also involving Spanish, Turkish, Moroccan, and possibly Israeli ships, will continue until June 14th.

GSPC activities

Ech Chourouk: Two municipal guards were killed and had their weapons stolen near the Ain en-Nsour Hospital in the Zakkar mountains of Miliana on Friday night.

El Khabar reports that, through its website, the GSPC claims responsibility for the killing of 13 customs officers on 7 April in El-Maniaa. Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni specifically blamed the local "emir" Mokhtar Belmokhtar, nicknamed "Khaled Abou'l-Abbas".

Dialogue with the arouch?

Ech Chourouk, El Watan, Liberte: The change of prime minister interrupted ongoing discussions between the government and the arouch; various newspapers are speculating as to the effect Belkhadem's appointment will have. El Watan suggests that Belkhadem will be much less willing to listen to the arouch than his predecessor, while Horizons notes that as FLN secretary-general Belkhadem denied the arouch's political legitimacy, arguing that, now that local elections have been successfully held in the Kabyle area, any negotiation should be with elected officials. On the other hand, Ech Chourouk suggests that the arouch are using the change to reopen discussion on the El-Kseur Platform, while Horizons reports they held a special meeting on Thursday to discuss the implications of the change of government. Can't say I feel any the wiser for reading all these articles, but this may make more sense later.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ongoing Army sweep around Boumerdes

Jeune Independent: A dozen people have been arrested east of Boumerdes for providing material support to the GSPC, including food, shelter, and building cache sites, while an army sweep there, which began fifteen days ago, is reported to have dismantled a GSPC network and found and destroyed a hundred bombs. One cache was found in Baloul, near Thenia.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

15,000 workers demonstrate in Rouiba

Ech Chourouk, El Khabar, Liberte, El Watan: 15,000 industrial workers from 80 factories, led by local UGTA union secretary M. Messaoudi, demonstrated in Rouiba over a 3-km march, demanding higher salaries, no privatization, and no closing of factories, and criticizing mismanagement. The demonstration was described by Liberte as the largest in Algeria since independence, while Ech Chourouk called it the second largest (after a demonstration in 1998.) Slogans included "No to Privatisation - Our Children Need to Live!", "No to Closing Factories - No to Starving Families", "We're fed up, [Minister of Trade] Temmar!"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ouyahia out, Belkhadem succeeds him as PM

APS, El Khabar, Al Jazeera: President Bouteflika has appointed Abdelaziz Belkhadem of the FLN as new prime minister, ending days of speculation. Ahmed Ouyahia (RND) resigned from his prime ministerial position shortly beforehand the same day.

Skirmish in Tigzirt

El Watan: Army and guerrillas exchange fire at Tala Thesthane, 6 km south of Tigzirt. Apparently, the guerrillas had stolen somebody's truck in Mizrana; its owner was taken hostage, but freed safely. Nobody was killed or captured.

Aomar, Kadiria, and Lakhdaria's gas supply sabotaged

El Watan: Gas network supplying the cities of Aomar, Kadiria, and Lakhdaria is sabotaged. The damage is expected to be repaired within 24 hours.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Too much sand, or too little

El Khabar: Aizeb, a village near Mostaghanem (!), is being buried in sand by advancing dunes. They should try and negotiate a deal with the sand smugglers of Oued Aissi being tried this week - although I'm told only river sand is coarse enough for builders to use.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bomb targeting bridge near Skikda defused

Ech Chourouk: Security forces defuse a bomb primed to explode by remote control placed on a bridge on a road linking the villages of Hadj Ali and Chaabet Oum-ed-Dou in the municipality of El Ouedjla Bou Bellout in the mountains above Skikda. The army has been conducting a sweep of the eastern Skikda area lately, including the Sidi Mansour forest, the Djenane et-Teffah mountains, and the border with the wilaya of Jijel.

Algerian ports paralyzed by strike

Ech Chourouk, El Khabar, El Watan: Algerian port workers' union strikes against the planned privatization of the ports, accusing the Minister of Transport of violating the agreement of April 10th that the dispute would be settled through mutual dialogue. Algiers port was totally immobilized, and the strike cost Oran port 10 million dinars; of ten Algerian ports, only Annaba remained operational, according to El Watan.

Treaty of Friendship between Algeria and Turkey

Liberte says a Treaty of Friendship between Algeria and Turkey is to be signed today. Sounds sensible on the face of it - Turkey is Algeria's 8th largest export partner, and 9th largest import partner, and the two countries' political alignment is very similar - but I can't seem to find out what the treaty actually says.

(And yes, this fits nicely with the recent piece of tit-for-tat...)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Chinese to build trans-Algeria highway

Two Chinese (Hong Kong-based) companies, CITIC and CRCC, are to build 528 km of a new east-west trans-Algeria highway (the rest will be built by a Japanese company). Chinese workers have become a common sight on construction projects around Algiers over the past three years, and this news led Ech Chourouk to some meditation on "the sleeping giant's awakening", complaining that whether Western or Oriental companies get the contracts it always seems like others end up spending Algeria's money.

Minister hits (yes, personally hits) journalist

El Khabar, El Watan: Minister of Health Amar Tou hits and insults Liberte journalist Djemila Loukil in Oran on May 18, losing his temper over a question about medicine for AIDS patients. He denies it, the National Algerian Journalists' Union condemns it, and all the articles on Liberte about it seem to have disappeared or changed site.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Algeria news - May 12

El Khabar - With the Paris club's acceptance of Algeria's offer to pay it off, Algeria's debt drops by over 50% to $7 billion, down from over $30 billion in 1995-7. Excellent news; one can but hope that they'll pay off the rest as well. But do they have a viable economic strategy for when oil is cheap, as well as when it's expensive? (though oil may never be cheap again...)

Liberte: Communal guard killed at fake roadblock at Chabet el Ameur, bomb aimed at pursuing troops kills civilian on roadside; ex-communal guard killed at Bordj-Menaiel; bomb injures two soldiers by Bouaydel near Ammal.

El Khabar: Regional branches of Pasteur Institute to be opened, creating 5000 jobs for doctors.

Liberte: A total of 51 km of cable stolen in the wilaya of Medea over 2005; and ~10% of energy produced is stolen. Well, that's one excuse for the abysmal electric system, anyway.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Algeria news - May 11

Reuters - Paris Club accepts Algeria's offer to pay $8 billion of its debt in advance

El Khabar (EN), Liberte - 10 guerrillas killed in Seddat (Jijel) in the "Ghar el-Ghoula" cave alluded to yesterday. 1 guerrilla, "B. 'Abdallah' Haroun", surrenders in Jijel. His age was variously reported as 32 or 37, and his GSPC brigade's name as I`tisam or Taliban.

EN - Algeria's newspaper market almost evenly divided between Arabic and French: 48% of newspapers printed are in Arabic, 52% in French. The top Arabic one (and largest overall) is El Khabar; the top French one is Le Quotidien d'Oran.

El Khabar, El Moudjahid - Belkhadem announces FLN plan to change the constitution sometime in 2007 or so.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Algeria news - May 10

* Ech-Chaab, El Watan: Algeria's request is being considered by the Paris club. Algeria has proposed to pay off its debt ahead of schedule with the windfall arising from recent high oil prices. Algeria's foreign currency reserve currently stand at $62 billion; its external debt is $15.5 billion, of which it wants to prepay $8 billion to the Paris club.
* El Watan: Demonstrations in Zemmouri, demanding more housing from the local authorities.
* El Watan: Sit-in at a factory in Oued Fodda, demanding the release of its manager, Mahdjoub Hafidh, who was imprisoned for refusing builders access to a plot of land which the local government says is public property and the factory says is its own property.
* Ech-Chaab, El Watan: Government soldiers retrieve weapons from a cave in Seddat (Jijel) - including 3 kalashnikovs. The cave is said to be a hideout for a GSPC group called Ibad ar-Rahman.
* El Khabar (EN): Mixed response to public service unions' strike call - averaging about 65%. The strike was yesterday.
* El Khabar - Algeria has among highest rates of girls' schooling in Arab world, with women accounting for 65% of Bac candidates and 51% of university students.