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Youths riot over high food prices

Rioting youths have set fires, smashed street lights and ransacked shops in the second day of rampages in the Algerian capital over rising food prices and chronic unemployment.

Helicopters circled, stores closed early and security officers blocked off streets in the tense working-class Algiers neighbourhood of Bab el-Oued, near the city's ancient Casbah.

Riots on Wednesday night in the neighbourhood saw a police station, a Renault car dealership and other buildings set ablaze. Police with tear gas fired back at stone-throwing youths through the night.

Youths resumed their outbursts on Thursday, smashing store fronts and street lights in the area. Violence also erupted across town in the El Harrach neighbourhood, where youths set tyres on fire and threw stones at police. Riot police vans were parked in side streets.

Wednesday's violence started after evening prayers. It came after price hikes for milk, sugar and flour in recent days, and amid simmering frustration that Algeria's abundant gas and oil resources have not translated into broader prosperity.

Food price riots also hit Algeria's Mediterranean city of Oran this week.

Algeria is still recovering from an insurgency that ravaged the country throughout the 1990s after the army cancelled 1992 elections that fundamentalists were expected to win. Bab el-Oued is a former stronghold of that group, the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS.

"They are right, these young people. They have no job, no housing, no visa (for other countries) and now not even bread or milk," said Amara Ourab, a resident of the neighbourhood in her 50s.

Neighbouring Tunisia has also seen violent protests in recent weeks over unemployment, leading to three deaths.

The unrest in Tunisia began when a young man set himself on fire on December 17 in the Sidi Bouzid region after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he sold without a permit. The man had a university degree but no steady work, and his hardship resonated with many in Tunisia, where unemployment stands at 14% but is much higher outside the capital.

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