22 die in ethnic clashes in Algeria, president calls meeting

AP News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2015 12:32 PM

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Authorities say ethnic clashes over two days have left at least 22 people dead around Algeria's southern oasis city of Ghardaia, prompting the president to call an urgent security meeting Wednesday.

The prefecture put the number of dead in clashes between Arabs and Berbers at 22, raising the death toll by four. Three of the 22 were killed a day earlier.

The official APS news agency said most of the deaths were from "projectiles" and occurred in Guerrara, 120 kilometers (75 miles) northeast of Ghardaia. One person was fatally wounded in Ghardaia when hit by a rock to the head. Dozens of others were injured, some seriously, APS said.

It said President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was meeting with the prime minister, defense officials, the army chief of staff and others to discuss the gravity of the latest confrontations more than 600 kilometers (375 miles) south of Algiers. APS cited sources close to the president's office.

The daily El Watan reported gunfire during the unrest, and wrote that "masked hordes on big motorbikes were combing neighborhoods of Guerrara and seeding terror among the population."

Riot police moved in to quell the clashes that included fires and vandalism targeting shops, cars and public buildings in the towns of Guerrara, Ghardaia and Berianne, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Ghardaia, the news agency reported.

Ghardaia, a UNESCO world heritage site, has been at the epicenter of the unrest. Members of the local Berber community, known as Mozabites, speak their own language and follow a different school of Islam than the majority of Algerians. The two groups compete over limited jobs, land and housing in the impoverished south.

Tensions escalated after a Mozabite cemetery was desecrated in December 2013. By October of last year, a dozen people had been killed and hundreds injured in clashes.