Algeria PM visits scene of deadly communal fighting

Sun, Mar 16th 2014, 1:33PM

Algeria's premier on Sunday visited a town on the edge of the Sahara where three people were killed in communal violence between Arabs and Berbers.

Prime Minister Youcef Yousfi was accompanied by Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz on the visit to Ghardaia, some 600 kilometres (370 miles) south of Algiers, where they met with local leaders, according to the national news agency APS.

The UNESCO world heritage site on the edge of the Sahara desert has since December been rocked by clashes between the Chaamba community of Arab origin and the majority Mozabites, Berbers belonging to the Ibadi Muslim sect.

Police have launched an investigation into the violence, an official told AFP Sunday, adding that calm has been restored in the town.

Late Saturday three people were killed with "blunt objects," according to APS, while a local source said they were shot. It was not immediately clear to which community they belonged.

"Whatever the nature of the objects that caused death, only an investigation can determine the circumstances," a senior police official said, adding that autopsies would be carried out.

Another 89 people were wounded in the clashes, including 29 members of the security forces, according to a hospital source.

Two Mozabite doctors said more than 100 people had been wounded but that many had not gone to hospital for fear of arrest.

Berbers represent around 30 percent of the Algerian population and have long considered themselves marginalised by the country's Arab majority.

Analysts have warned the sectarian violence in Ghardaia -- which was inflamed by the destruction of a historic Berber shrine in late December -- could spread across the region.

The two communities have coexisted for centuries, but limited economic opportunities, despite Algeria's vast oil and gas wealth, have aggravated social tensions.

Previous eruptions of violence since December left four Mozabites dead and more than 200 wounded.

The latest clashes erupted when members of some 200 Mozabite families driven out of the mixed Hadj Messaoud quarter in January returned to inspect their homes, a local leader said.