Man tries to set himself on fire at Algeria protest
ALGIERS (Reuters) – An Algerian man doused himself with fuel and tried to set himself on fire on Sunday during a small protest outside a government ministry in the capital to demand more jobs. Algerian opposition groups, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, say they will force the government to quit, but analysts say a revolt is unlikely because officials can use revenue from energy exports to soothe most grievances.
During the protest outside the employment ministry building involving about 30 people, a man arrived, poured fuel over himself from a jerry can and then tried to ignite it with a cigarette lighter. A journalist standing nearby wrestled the man to the floor before he could set fire to himself, said a Reuters cameraman who was at the protest. The man was later escorted inside the ministry building by police. A wave of protests in neighbouring Tunisia which forced out President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali last month was started by a young unemployed man setting himself on fire in an act of protest at his treatment by the authorities. Since then, there has been a series of self-immolations around the Arab world, including several in Algeria.
According to official figures, Algeria’s unemployment rate is around 10 percent, while joblessness among the young is more than twice that figure. “What are those people at the top doing? They do not have the right to be there,” said Abdu Bendjoudi, one of the organisers of Sunday’s protest. “If the government does not make an effort in this sense (to reduce unemployment), catastrophe approaches. What happened in Egypt and Tunisia risks coming here today.” Energy exporter Algeria has about $150 billion in foreign currency reserves, almost no external debt, and forecasts economic growth of 4 percent in 2011. But the economy, dominated by the oil and gas sector, produces too few jobs.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, seeking to prevent opposition calls for protests from building momentum, promised last week more democratic freedoms and ordered the government to adopt new job-creation measures. A coalition of civil society groups, some trade unionists and small political parties said they did not trust Bouteflika’s promises, and would be going ahead with a planned protest rally in the capital on February 12.