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Quake Survivors Hurl Debris at Algerian Leader

President is met with jeers as he tries to tour devastated towns. Toll could reach 3,000.

May 25, 2003|From Associated Press

BOUMERDAS, Algeria — Crowds furious over a rising death toll and shortages of food and water hurled debris and insults at Algeria's president Saturday when he visited a town devastated by an earthquake.

The anger came as Japanese rescue workers said they pulled a survivor -- a 21-year-old waiter -- from the rubble of a hotel on the Mediterranean coast at midnight Friday. Wednesday's magnitude-6.8 earthquake flattened villages east of Algiers. The government Saturday said at least 2,047 people were killed and 8,626 were injured.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika tried to tour Boumerdas on Saturday, but angry crowds harangued him.

Bouteflika cut his visit short. Police fought to hold back the crowd as he drove away, with many people throwing chunks of rubble and other objects at his car.

The president faced similar anger later in the day in Lakhdaria, where one elderly protester accused the government of misappropriating international aid meant for quake victims.

The president later shrugged off the protests, calling them "testimony to the vitality of Algerian youth."

Townspeople across the quake zone accused the government of inadequately providing food, medicine and blankets. Some said government failure to rush mechanical diggers to affected areas delayed rescues and contributed to the death toll.

Amid the strife and destruction, Japanese aid workers on Saturday said they had some good news. After 3 1/2 hours of digging through the wrecked Adim Beach Resort at Zemmouri, they rescued a man who somehow had escaped injury.

"It was almost a miracle. He was unscathed," said Toshimitsu Ishigure, director of the Japanese Overseas Disaster Assistance. "He was able to breathe because he had a half-foot of space from a slab lying on top."

Hopes of finding further survivors, however, was evaporating. Ishigure said rescues become far less likely 72 hours after a quake, and British officials said Saturday that they soon would replace rescue workers with relief and recovery experts.

The death toll is expected to rise, and Hakim Mohand, an Algerian official, said it could reach 3,000.

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