Algiers tense after clashes with Chinese

ALGIERS: The streets of Algiers are deserted following clashes between Chinese and Algerian traders, but the tension is palpable despite comments by Beijing's envoy describing the unrest as an isolated incident.

"I thought I was going to die," said Abdelkrim Salaouda, sitting on a chair in front of his shop selling household electrical goods in the city's Bab Ezzouar quarter, 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the city centre.

According to Salaouda, the clashes broke out over a dispute on Monday afternoon between a Chinese man and a young Algerian who was accused of having parked his car near his shop.

His brother came to his aid, but around 50 Chinese men, armed with swords, knives and iron bars then set upon the Algerian traders in support of their compatriot, residents said.

"I was going towards my neighbour's shop when a group of Chinese attacked me and gave me a thrashing," said Salaouda whose head is still wrapped in a bandage.

"At the hospital I had to have seven stitches," he said.

"The Chinese have taken advantage of the kindness of the Algerians. They were accepted despite their faults, today they are attacking us," added one of Salaouda's employees Mounir.

"They drink alcohol in front of their shops and in full view of the Algerians and often parade about in shorts in the area. This sort of behaviour is against our religion and our culture," said Abdellah, another resident.

Since Monday police cars have been patrolling the area along with plain clothes officers.

Salaouda believes that the Chinese traders might now, however, be regretting their behaviour after they suggested mediation in order to sort out their differences amicably.

"We don't want them here any more. The only thing for them to do is to go back to China," he said, surrounded by dozens of neighbours who nodded in agreement.

The residents had also signed a petition to the authorities calling for the Chinese to be asked to leave, he added.

The usually bustling area was on Wednesday deserted.

All the shops belonging to the Chinese traders were closed and none had appeared in public since the incidents, according to locals.

"They are afraid of possible reprisals. On Monday evening young people from neighouring areas attacked four or five shops belonging to the Chinese," said another man speaking on condition of anonymity.

The police had to intervene late in the evening, he said.

China's embassy in Algiers on Wednesday played down the violent clashes as an isolated incident unrepresentative of normal relations.

"This isolated incident does not reflect the relations between Algerians and Chinese," an embassy spokeswoman said, adding that China "had confidence in the Algerian police" to shed light on the violence.

Chinese traders have flooded the North African country, selling goods at cut throat prices and sparking growing local resentment.

The embassy spokeswoman said that China's ambassador to Algeria had visited the scene of the violence and "asked our nationals to respect the customs and traditions of the Algerians, to promote the spirit of good neighbourly ties."

Around 25,000 Chinese currently live in Algeria, according to the Algerian media, working mainly in commerce, telecommunications, and the building trade.