Sectarian violence claims another life in Algeria

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iol pic afr algeria unrest berber AFP Algerian men from the Mozabite community, a Berber minority group which adheres to the Ibadi faith, an offshoot of Shi'a Islam, sit outside a closed shop in the main square of the flashpoint desert oasis town of Ghardaia. Picture: Farouk Batiche

Algiers -

A Berber died of his wounds on Thursday in Algeria's desert city of Ghardaia, bringing to five the number killed during weeks of violence between two rival communities, local sources said.

The latest death came as the interior minister and police chief visited the city of 90 000 inhabitants, which has been rocked since December by clashes between the Chaamba community of Arab origin and the majority Mozabites, indigenous Berbers belonging to the Ibadi Muslim sect.

“A young Mozabite died on Thursday afternoon. His wounds were so bad that he still hasn't been identified,” Nourddine Daddi Nounou, a member of the Mozabite community, said in a statement to AFP.

It was the second fatality in two days, after a 20-year-old Mozabite was stabbed to death on Wednesday, community leader Mohamed Tounsi said.

Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz vowed to boost security in Ghardaia and underlined “the determination of the state to vigorously apply the law” in the face of violence against people and property, the national APS agency quoted him as saying.

Belaiz, who was accompanied by police chief Abdelghani Hamel and the head of the national gendarmerie, Ahmed Bousteila, announced a new security operations centre to be jointly run by the two forces.

“The security structures in the region of Ghardaia will be multiplied three- or four-fold, to completely restore peace and order,” he said.

The latest violence between youths from the two communities erupted on Tuesday when some of them set fire to a Mozabite teaching centre, according to Tounsi.

More than 30 people have since been wounded and dozens of shops and houses torched in the hilltop city in the M'Zab valley, which is classified as a Unesco world heritage site and lies about 600km south of Algiers.

Analysts have warned that the fragile region could be engulfed by the sectarian violence in Ghardaia, which both sides accused the other of starting, but which was inflamed by the destruction of a historic Berber shrine in late December.

The two communities have coexisted for centuries, but as elsewhere in the region, limited economic opportunities, despite the proximity of Algeria's vast oil and gas wealth, have aggravated social tensions. - Sapa-AFP

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