ALGIERS — Violent clashes between rioters and security forces that have rocked the nation spread Sunday into southwestern Algeria.
Diplomats and hospital sources in the capital said at least 50 people may have died in five days of protest across the country, but other unofficial estimates put the death toll at more than 100.
Diplomats have blamed the riots on rising prices and widespread unemployment among youths who feel that the benefits of a cautious liberalization have passed them by. Fifty-seven percent of Algeria's population of 23 million is under 21.
Travelers from Tiaret, 150 miles southwest of the capital, said the town's young people, following the lead of youths in Algiers and Oran, caused massive damage to government property.
Security forces sent in to protect the town clashed with rioters on Sunday morning, and residents contacted by telephone from Algiers described the encounter as especially violent.
Violence was also reported in the southern and eastern suburbs of Algiers and in the western port city of Oran, Algeria's second-largest city. Fighting also was reported in a dozen provincial centers.
In the capital, Algiers, army helicopters armed with rockets flew low, apparently to discourage the formation of crowds. The city remained mostly calm Sunday. After midday prayers at the city's mosques, some people gathered and chanted, "Chadli must go!" a reference to President Chadli Bendjedid. They dispersed quickly when soldiers charged.
Soldiers, mounted on tanks, guarded state buildings, hospitals and the remaining food outlets, where hundreds of Algerians waited to buy stocks of staple foods that have been in short supply.
"We have no \o7 semoule\f7 (couscous, a dish made with crushed grain), no wheat. We have nothing. The young people of Algeria have nothing," one Algerian woman said.
Abderrahmane Bonato, a 30-year-old teacher, said he was returning home before the 10 p.m. curfew Saturday when he saw several soldiers firing on "perfectly quiet and respectful" crowds.
"I saw two men who were wounded being dragged into a passageway by their comrades," he said. "I don't know what happened to them."
A 26-year-old government official, Aliouane Fadela, said she saw gendarmes in riot gear "charging bystanders who were doing nothing, and then kicking them once they were on the ground."
Authorities Thursday imposed a state of emergency with overnight curfews and arrested more than 900 people for looting.
The official APS Algerian news agency gave a list of reasons for the mounting unrest--crop failure, the collapse of oil prices, the global economic crisis and Algeria's enormous population increase--from 9.4 million in 1954 to more than 23 million.
Began 10 Days Ago
The unrest began about 10 days ago when industrial workers staged strikes for higher wages. The government said it would not break away from its austerity plan, and youths began rampaging in Algiers and other cities.
The austerity plan is aimed at resolving an economic crisis made worse by falling oil prices, the nation's main source of revenue. The plan, announced in January, is intended to line up food prices with world markets and cut surplus workers in the state-owned industries that dominate the economy.