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At least 22 people have been killed in ethnic clashes between Arab and Amazigh communities around the Algerian desert town of Ghardaia, with several businesses and homes set on fire, medical sources and official media said on Wednesday.
The violence that erupted over the weekend was one of the worst in years in the hot spot region where tensions are often high between Arabs and Mozabite Berbers – one of the Amazigh peoples of Africa North – competing for jobs, homes and land.
The security forces sent reinforcements in an attempt to calm the new clashes which intensified on Monday and Tuesday evening.
“Most of the victims died after being hit on the head by projectiles,” said a local official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “We hope the situation will improve. The tribal chiefs mediated.”
Fifteen people died of their injuries on Tuesday evening and four more people died of their injuries in hospital on Wednesday, a local medical source told Reuters.
Most Mozabites live in the desert region around the province of Ghardaia, but some are based in the northern regions.
About 70 Mozabites held a rally in Algiers on Wednesday to urge authorities to take urgent action to end the clashes there.
Some protesters carried banners that read “Me, Ghardaia,” among others, witnesses said.
Three people died on Monday, mainly in the small town of Guerrara, near Ghardaia, state media said.
Ghardaia, about 600 km (370 miles) from Algiers, is home to both Arabs and Mozabite Berbers, who speak their own language and follow their own school of Islam.
Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui arrived in Ghardaia early Wednesday, as tribal leaders called for “vigilance and wisdom,” the official APS news agency reported.
About 30 people have also been injured, seven seriously, over the past two days, while several businesses, houses and cars have been set on fire, medical and local sources said.
Ghardaia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been at the epicenter of unrest between Arabs and Mozabite Berbers. The two groups compete for jobs, land and limited housing in the impoverished south.
Tensions escalated after the desecration of a Mozabite cemetery in December 2013. In October last year, a dozen people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes.
(REUTERS and AFP)