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

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

2 soldiers, 2 guards killed, 1 kidnapping ends safely: Algeria security news

El Khabar, Ech Chourouk: Two soldiers and a communal guard killed at Bordj el-Kaid in Skikda, and a third soldier injured, in a GSPC attack on an army base. El Khabar says the attackers were dressed in army uniforms, and had kalashnikovs.

Ech Chourouk: A communal guard killed in Bouira, near Ouled Bouchia.

On a different note, Liberte reports the kidnapping of one Amine Yaker at a false roadblock in the wilaya of Tizi-Ouzou, ended with the payment of a large ransom for his safe return.

13 newborns die in hospital at Hussein Dey

Ech Chourouk, El Khabar, and Liberte lead with the news that more than 7 newborn babies (Liberte says 7, Ech Chourouk 12, El Khabar 13) have died in less than 24 hours at Parnet hospital in Hussein Dey (Algiers). The cause is not yet entirely clear, but "sources indicate" that some sort of virus swept the delivery room. God help their poor parents.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Algerian waters being overfished by foreign vessels

El Watan says Algeria's water are being dangerously overfished, with shrimp and lobsters, formerly common, disappearing. In addition to the obvious (and big) problem of pollution, they blame large-scale industrial fishing by, in particular, Spanish vessels, using narrow-mesh nets that kill immature fish and protected species. Apparently, these pay 500,000 dinars for an annual permit to fish in Algerian territorial waters, and make it back in days. It also reports that quotas on how many fish of a given species can legally be caught are in practice not enforced, and that promised government subsidies intended to help Algerian fishermen are not being disbursed, or are being wasted on leisure boat owners.

Bomb in Sidi-Daoud, 19 GSPC fighters killed in Annaba, 1 captured in Sbaghnia: Algeria security news

Ech Chourouk (p. 4):

Bomb targeting a passing truckful of soldiers explodes in Sidi-Daoud, about 50 km east of Boumerdes; fortunately for the soldiers, it exploded a few seconds before the truck reached it.

A guerrilla is captured in Sbaghnia, on the Blida-Medea border 30 km east of Hammam Melouane, in the course of a military sweep of the area; his band is reported to be the one responsible for killing 5 farmers recently.

Reuters: Earlier, in an army raid on GSPC bases in Annaba, government forces killed 19 rebels.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bouteflika to announce amendment July 5

Liberte says: Bouteflika will announce his decision to amend the constitution on July 5 (Algeria's Independence Day), dicussed previously. Watch this space...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

RND still firmly behind constitution change

El Watan: Ex-PM Ouyahia further demonstrates his undying loyalty to the President, saying of amending the constitution that "if it's at the initiative of the president of the Republic, I support it."

Thenia hospital to be rebuilt?

Have the Thenia demonstrations had an effect? Liberte talks about the saga of Thenia hospital. Apparently, Saudi Arabia gave a subsidised loan to rebuild it, requiring that the contract be advertised in Asharq Al Awsat. Only two bids were received for the contract, from a Turkish company called Atlas Civil Engineering and an American one called Acheton (Ashton?) International LLC. Atlas won the bid, but then the Ministry of Finance decided that the contract should be shared between the two companies, limited currency transfer to 25% of the contract, and demanded a discount of 5 million dinars. The company was presumably not pleased, and the whole project was subjected to indefinite delays - until now, when the Boumerdes director of health claims everything is sorted out with Atlas and construction should begin any day now. Well, we'll see...

GSPC activities in Algeria, Iraq network

Liberte, El Watan, Ech Chourouk (p. 2), El Khabar (EN): RPG-wielding GSPC ambush soldiers in M’tchitcha in the Ahnif area, 45 km east of Bouira on Thursday night. 7 soldiers killed, and 7 more injured, including one communal guard.

Earlier this week, notes Liberte, seven soldiers were killed at Lakhdaria, and four in Djelfa. It adds that in the wilaya of Boumerdes there have so far been 284 surrenders and more than 125 freed under the Peace and Reconciliation Charter, and names the "emir" of Boumerdes as one Abdelhamid Saâdaoui.

Ech Chourouk, quoting a GSPC press release promising "a hot summer", gives the total toll for the past 12 months as more than 36 soldiers, customs officers, and communal guards, in Ghazerouane, Bouaidel (Bouira), Thenia, Baghlia, Dellys, Bouberak (Boumerdes), Tifirassine (Batna), Slamna (Tizi-Ouzou), Mouqournou (Medea), Ras el-Ma (Sidi Bel Abbes), Beni-Mahboub (Jijel), Bouk'hil (Biskra), Hammam Righa (Ain Defla), Sidi-Mekraz (Chlef).

In related non-GSPC news, Ech Chourouk says that, according to "reliable sources", a Salafist network in Tiaret and Tlemcen helping volunteers to go fight in Iraq has been broken up, with more than 15 arrests, shortly after a guy from Tiaret blew himself up in Iraq.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Some of the world's oldest jewelry found in Algeria

Science, BBC, EurekAlert: Scientists date shell jewelry from Oued Djebbana at between 35,000 and 90,000 years old, dating to the middle Paleolithic. The perforated shells were probably used in a necklace or bracelet. The shells are of a marine species, Nassarius gibulosus, but were found more than 200 km from the sea, suggesting the existence of long-distance trade networks, perhaps comparable to those of pre-colonial Australia.

Update: Or were they quite simply money?

Monday, June 19, 2006

More Algeria security news

La Nouvelle Republique: Three communal guard members killed in explosion at the village of Slatna near Tizi-Ouzou. Elsewhere, Adlani Mouloud, the head of the BMPJ (judicial police mobile brigade) at Baghlia near Dellys, was killed during a police operation.

More exam errors

El Khabar's headline is pretty funny: "Another Mistake Discovered in Physics Paper: Bureau confirms that there is not a mistake in every single subject."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gendarmerie to return to Tizi-Ouzou

Ech Chourouk (p. 3): Hocine Mazouz, governor of Tizi-Ouzou, announces that the gendarmerie will return to all stations in the wilaya, following a petition signed by 90,000 people asking for their return. The withdrawal of the gendarmerie was a key demand of the arouch movement, who are not pleased; they have reiterated their demand for "a complete, final withdrawal" of all units of the gendarmerie and punishment of gendarmes involved in events of the "Black Spring".

More on amendment of Algerian Constitution

Ech Chourouk (p. 3), El Watan, El Khabar (EN): More newspapers report on the proposed constitutional changes. El Khabar basically quotes Belkhadem denying generalities without specifics; according to El Watan, "the former single party wants to reinstall a long-overturned political system".

Ech Chourouk quotes Belkhadem as saying that, contrary to some reports, article 158 (which allows the president to be tried in case of high treason) will not be changed (although article 74, of course, will), and that "the President is free to accept or reject the FLN's proposals for constitutional reform", as well as suggesting a reexamination of articles 160, 162, and 170 to allow more oversight over the elected assemblies' expenditure. As for the legislative branch, he proposes the elimination of the administrative chamber of the court and subordinating the Council of State to the administrative branch (ie the president). Otherwise, it confirms the report in Liberte.

In summary: under these proposals, the president will gain even more explicit power over both the other branches of government than he already has, and will be allowed to run for office indefinitely often. It's lucky Bouteflika is such a trustworthy person, isn't it?

Two killed near Tipasa in Algeria

El Watan, Ech Chorouk, El Khabar (EN): Two people, a civilian and a customs officer, were killed and decapitated in the village of Bayou between Aghbal and Gouraya on the night of the 14th June 2006. The civilian was the brother of a current GSPC guerrilla. According to Ech Chourouk, a police investigation is currently attempting to determine whether this crime was committed by the GSPC or was motivated by personal rivalries; according to El Watan, not only was this crime committed by terrorists (they don't mention the GSPC by name), but the civilian's brother was among his assailants.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Algerian constitutional amendment: Belkhadem presents the proposal

Liberte: Prime Minister Belkhadem presents his proposals for amending the constitution. The principal points were:

* No limit to presidential mandates - the president will be able to be reelected indefinitely, rather than, as now, being limited to two terms. But he insists that "this isn't a president-for-life".
* A post of vice-president - named by the President.
* Prime minister to replace post of head of government - prime minister to be designated by the President.
* Various promises about the right to demonstrate, equality of chances, freedom of religion, etc.

The overall upshot is rather obvious, I would think. If you spot an online copy of the full proposals, tell me.

Bombs at Skikda, Sidi-Bel-Abbes

Liberte: 1 soldier killed and another hurt in a bomb explosion during a sweep of the mountains around Ras el Ma, 100 km south of Sidi Bel Abbes; GSPC reported active around Tefessour, Taoudmout, and Oued Taourira. 2 soldiers hurt in bomb explosion at Bourihane, 2 km from Ain Zouit west of Skikda; about 12 guerrillas from a cell called "El Feth El Moubine" reported active in the area.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tunisia in Egyptian eyes

No direct Algeria link, but I like this post Tunisian thoughts, and many (though not all) of the attitudes described would certainly be recognizable in Algeria too. I thought this quote was particularly memorable:

A Café, sitting with Hagar, a graphic designer and her dad is a one of the powerful elite ruling the country “I’ve been to Beirut, I didn’t like it, I generally don’t like the East, your countries are so dirty and not organized, honestly I prefer Paris.” She then added “you have lots of veiled girls as well and I totally resent the veil and how you treat women in the East.” … so I go “but Hagar, regardless of whether you resent veil or not, women in the East and specifically Egypt have the freedom to choose to wear it or not but here you don’t” … she goes angrily “who said we need them to choose, Tunisian are not qualified to choose yet, they go only by the stick and that’s how they should be treated”!

Corruption investigation in El Tarf

El Khabar, El Watan: Governor of El Tarf is claimed to have received a "loan" of 10 million dinars from an investor, which he refused to pay back. Investigators have found a number of anomalies in the accounts and management of various government projects, including road repair and the building of a new port at El Kala. El Watan reports that an elected official, M. Belaid, who had attempted to blow the whistle on the situation two years ago had his house demolished and got sued for slander.

Several mistakes in Bac paper

El Khabar, Ech Chourouk, Liberte: "Minor" mistakes were detected in the Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, and Accountancy baccalaureate papers; all students taking those will gain two marks as a result. The Algiers Union of Students' Parents deplored "for the nth time, the carelessness with which Baccalaureate exam papers are prepared."

More Algeria security news

El Watan, Jeune Independant: Two GSPC members killed on Tuesday night in fighting around Ait Boudoukhane, in Chaabet el-Ameur 35 km southeast of Boumerdes. One turned out to be a native of Chaabet el-Ameur who had gone to the hills some weeks ago; the other was unidentified.

Ech Chourouk, El Watan: One Yahia Hassan, emir of the last guerrillas in Sidi Bel-Abbas, has surrendered. Ech Chourouk gives his group's name as something like "Protectors of the Salafist Preaching of Combat", while El Watan just says GSPC. Ech Chourouk also says that a "dangerous terrorist" that they had been looking for since 2001 was captured in Talebouant in Ghelizane. His initials are M. T., and he was born in 1980.

Benchicou released

Reuters, El Khabar (EN), Liberte: Mohamed Benchicou, the former editor of independent newspaper Le Matin jailed in June 2004 on the charge of illegally transferring money abroad shortly after publishing a book entitled Bouteflika, an Algerian Fraud, has been released from El-Harrach prison in Algiers. Liberte described his appearance on release as "slightly pale, thinner, and very excited", adding that police violently pushed photographers away from the scene. Asked about the possibility of reviving Le Matin, he told El Khabar: "If the government calls off its tools of suppression among the tax services, justice, and police, we will be back shortly"; a one-off special edition of Le Matin came out yesterday to mark the occasion. Of his time in prison, he said "I was prevented from any correspondence directed to me the length of the two years I spent in prison; I was forbidden from private treatment; I stood before the investigative judge 44 times to answer questions about articles published by Le Matin; I spent my days and nights in undergound cells, in intense cold and dirt..."

After his release, Liberte records, he went to a sort of rally at the press house, attended by arouch (Kabyle activist) members, RAFD (Algerian Assembly of Democratic Women) members, the president of the LADDH (Algerian human rights organization), and journalists, as well as the previously jailed Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet. In his speech to them, he said "Algeria needs freedom, and the time has come to struggle for this freedom... I give you an appointment for other struggles and other springs." His next step will be to fight 29 other lawsuits filed against him, El Khabar notes, giving no details.

Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Journalists announced that they welcomed his release.

Friday, June 09, 2006

More Algeria security news

El Khabar: Six soldiers hurt in two explosions in the Biskra area. One hurt two soldiers combing the area at Ras El Miad, and one hurt four combing the area in the mountains of Tajmout. Also some attacks on police.

60% of Bac candidates are women

El Watan, El Khabar: Of 560,000 students taking the Bac in Algeria this year, 59.49% are women; 98.31% are taking French as their second language (a crushing indictment of Algeria's school system); and 37% opted for the science track, followed by humanities at 35%.

(The Baccalaureat is the exams you take at the end of secondary school, analogous to A-levels in the UK or SATs in the US).

Algerian papers report on Zarqawi's death

El Khabar's headline: "Commander of American forces in Iraq: Zarqawi was alive when the troops got there - Al-Qaida confirms his killing and his family receives condolences in Jordan / curfew and state of alert in Iraq"

Liberte's headline: "Murdered Algerian diplomats' families react to his death: 'Zarqawi is not a martyr'". They interviewed the wife of one of the diplomats, Mrs. Fatima Belaroussi, who says "I wish they had captured him and judged him - that they had tortured him until he revealed where he buried my husband's remains..."

Quotidien d'Oran has "Killed in a raid on Friday: what will the post-Zarqawi Iraq look like?"

Ech Chourouk reports that the GSPC has taken a leaf out of Zarqawi's book and posted online videos of them cutting the throat of a prison guard captured near Tizi-Ouzou, after filming his "confession" of misdeeds and passing sentence on him.

El Moudjahid reports "Zarqawi killed in a Jordanian-American operation - 34 dead in Baghdad attacks in 48 hrs".

Update - UK-Algeria talks on deportation of terror suspects

My speculations were correct, and sooner than I had expected. In addition to the extradition treaty, they signed agreements on legal co-operation and movement of people. Few details are available yet (APS is uninformative).

Update: It looks like "Business in Africa" jumped the gun. According to Liberte, they didn't sign the agreement, they just agreed to it - the signing will take place in London, and Bouteflika will personally go there to sign it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Algeria's role in CIA rendition flights?

Ech Chourouk leads with the headline "Interior Ministry denies Marty report: Is Algeria a stopover for American secret services' transporting and transfer of terrorists?"

The allusion is to the Council of Europe's draft report on alleged CIA "secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers", which states that:

2.5.55. Our analysis of the rendition programme in the post-9/11 era allows us to infer that the transfer of other detainees on this rendition circuit must have entailed detainees being transferred out of Kabul to alternative detention facilities in different countries. Thus, drawing upon official flight data, the probable existence of secret detention facilities can be inferred in Algeria and, as we will see, in Romania.

The Interior Ministry called these claims "unfounded", adding that "Algeria has never once been a stopover for the transfer of prisoners accused of terrorism".

The CoE report also describes a case of six Algerians in Bosnia (four of them naturalized Bosnian citizens) being taken by the CIA to Guantanamo despite a court order mandating their release.

UK-Algeria talks on deportation of terror suspects?

Kim Howells, UK Foreign Office Minister, is visiting Algeria, where "he will hold high level discussions with the Head of Government and the Foreign Minister." The topics of discussion were not mentioned, but are likely to include the proposal to sign a memorandum of understanding, similar to that recently signed with Libya, whereby Algeria would undertake not to, um, mistreat any people extradited from the UK to Algeria, thus allowing the UK to expel a number of people without technically falling foul of the Human Rights Act. A useful side-effect for Algeria is that it would probably be able to get Rafik Khalifa back, as Liberte speculates.

ICFTU criticises Algerian trade union law

El Khabar (EN), ICFTU (full): The International Federation of Free Trade Unions issues a new report criticising Algeria's restrictions on trade union activity, and briefly summarising the legal issues. They also discuss the teachers' strike. Their summary of the situation is:

Freedom of association is often flouted in the public sector, and also in the private sector, where workers are subjected to many abuses. Defending their right to strike, teachers embarked on a serious struggle with the authorities.

Russia debt "cancellation" official

As agreed during Putin's visit earlier this year, Russia has officially written off Algeria's $4.7 billion debt to it (ITAR-TASS; Algeria agreed to purchase a rather large amount of military equipment in return.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

More Algerian national cultural patrimony identified

Jeune Independant reports on cultural preservation efforts. Three "historic centers" to be preserved have been established - the Algiers Casbah, the Old City of Constantine, and the Mzab Valley - while the national commission on cultural goods recommended two other places, the Dellys Casbah and Old Tenes, to add to this list. To the two current cultural parks, the Tassili and the Ahaggar, it recommended adding Tindouf, Touat-Gourara-Tidikelt, and the Saharan Atlas. For archeological preservation, it set aside 40 million dinars for planning the protection of Timgad, Djemila, Qalaat Beni Hammad, and Tipasa, and another 10 million for the Algiers Casbah.

This verdict is potentially good news for the reconstruction of the severely earthquake-damaged Dellys Casbah, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ouyahia: We All Support A Third Term for Bouteflika

El Khabar's headline (above) speaks for itself. Ouyahia's decisive words, spoken at a meeting with regional RND representatives in the party centre in Ben-Aknoun, put an end to the scurrilous rumor that he was fired for (reactionarily) thinking two terms was long enough:

He [Ouyahia] clarified that, if the intent of the amendment was to allow the President a third term, then "we all support that."

After all:

"I am personally proud to have had the honor to know Bouteflika for 20 years... and I feel proud to have been fortunate enough to enjoy Bouteflika's respect."

Meanwhile, Belkhadem has announced that draft suggestions on amending the constitution will be sent to President Bouteflika, "the only person with the power to define the way and the date of the constitution amendment", on 15 June.

In the interests of confusion, I note that El Watan, reporting on the same conference, says Ouyahia opposes the idea of changing the constitution. The quotes they provide, however, don't refer to the presidential term increase, and merely suggest a certain indifference: "The FLN has the right to consider and suggest proposals to amend it. But its proposal does not interest us."

On an irrelevant linguistic note, I notice that the El Khabar article - rather unusually - sporadically quotes Ouyahia in Darja: ''أنا جئت ورحت ووليت·· أعرف جيدا الطريق كيفاش أنجي وكيفاش أنروح''. ("I came, I went, and I came back... I well know the road of how to come and go.") I wonder why - did the author intend to make him look stupid, to make him seem down-to-earth, or simply to more accurately represent his speech?

Friday, June 02, 2006

1284 illegal immigrants arrested at Maghnia since Janary

Liberte gives some idea of the scale of illegal immigration to Algeria - really, mainly, via Algeria to Europe, although some stay - in reporting that 1284 "clandestins" from 21 countries have been arrested just at Maghnia, on the Moroccan border, since the start of the year. Most were African, although, bizarrely, they also included Russians, Uzbeks, and Syrians. Stories on this issue seem to crop up every month or so.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

HMS reservations on constitution change

El Khabar, El Watan: HMS president Bouguerra Soltani expresses rather timid reservations about the ruling FLN's plan to change article 74 of Algeria's constitution to allow the president to be reelected more than once.

This is, of course, just another manifestation of HMS's irrational Islamist hostility to progress. After all, the more experienced a president is, the better he can govern the country, and we wouldn't want to have less experienced leaders than our fellow Arab League members, now would we?

Algerian education - less French (again)

El Khabar, El Watan Liberte: Minister of Education confirms that private schools' main language of instruction has to be Arabic, and that they cannot set up CNED courses; this is primarily directed against French-medium schools, popular with the elite.

On a different note, French teaching will once again start at 3rd grade, after a brief period of attempting to start it in 2nd grade - various reasons were advanced, from the difficulty of mastering two unfamiliar written languages at once to Belkhadem's supposed support for Arabization.