Outward Calm, But Young Protesters Still Angry
Oct. 11, 1988
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ Protesters stayed off the streets Tuesday after a week of violence that killed more than 400 people, but the young men who led the revolt against economic hardship remained angry and impatient.
Tanks and soldiers guarded areas most affected by the riots, including Bab- el-Oued, Belcourt and Ruisseau. Helicopter gunships chuffed overhead.
Shops were half-open, with metal curtains ready to slam down at any sign of trouble, and people bought large quantities of staple foods that had suddenly become available.
Truck convoys brought flour, butter, semolina and cooking oil into Algiers during the night and government stores sold the food to all comers at subsidized prices. Butter that was available only on the black market last week, at $4.30 a pound, could be had for $1.75.
A communique from the president's office announced that the state of emergency, proclaimed Oct. 6, would be lifted shortly after dawn Wednesday.
Government officials said the first official casualty toll showed 176 people had died as of Sunday night, but they acknowledged that was lower than the actual number of dead.
Reports from hospital, medical and police sources indicate at least 400 were killed and more than 1,000 injured. The French news agency Agence France- Presse estimated the number of dead at 500 or more. The government said the reports were exaggerated.
Thirty-five people, including a correspondent for the official news agency, were reported killed in an outbreak of violence Monday night shortly before a speech in which President Chadli Benjedid promised sweeping reforms.
Diplomatic and family sources said Sid Ali Benmechiche, a senior editor of Algerie Presse Service, was hit by machine gun fire while covering the disturbances in Bab-el-Oued. He was buried quietly Tuesday in the presence of several foreign reporters.
The U.S. government denounced the riots and also said the Algerian government was cooperating in ensuring safety of Americans there.
''We don't believe violence is the appropriate way to achieve political change in any country,'' State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said in Washingon. ''And we continue our close cooperation with officials from the government of Algeria.''
Displeasure with the president's television address was widespread despite vigorous government efforts to drum up support. It was his first official comment since riots over over high prices and food shortages began last week.
The official news agency, newspapers, radio and television carried many reports of messages supporting Benjedid flowing in from outlying districts, such as ''enthusiastic support'' and ''the women declare their backing.''
His speech promised far-reaching economic and political change, but contained few specifics to cool the anger.
''It's all very well to promise changes, but we want to know what he's doing to get more and cheaper goods on the market - and quickly,'' said Mohamed Belaid, a university student.
Similar views were expressed Tuesday wherever groups of young men gathered to discuss the situation and the president's speech.
Islamic fundamentalists who tried to take over the revolt at the end of last week seemed to be left temporarily without a cause, but one declared while leaning against a tree outside the main post office:
''Just give us a little time. If nothing else happens, give us at least until prayers next Friday. Then you'll see something.''
Information Minister Bachir Rouis, in an interview broadcast by Monte Carlo rado, expressed more optimism:
''The political reform announced by President Chadli will go in the direction of a larger democratic participation by all Algerians. It is not excluded that we will see other political concepts than the single party system. There will certainly be amendments to the constitution.''
Rouis said he was ''extremely optimistic'' that the crisis would be resolved.