About 100 Algerians and Chinese migrant workers fought with knives and bludgeons in the capital Algiers, witnesses said, in an unprecedented flare-up of local anger at Chinese immigration.
Planeloads of Chinese workers have been arriving in the North African oil producer, mainly to work on state-funded construction projects, and their presence has fuelled resentment in a country where 7 out of 10 adults under 30 are unemployed.
A diplomat at China’s embassy in Algiers said about 10 Chinese were injured and five Chinese-owned shops were looted in the fighting in the eastern district of Bab Ezzouar, an area known to locals as “Chinatown”.
Local people said a confrontation between a shop owner and a Chinese motorist led to the outbreak of fighting.
“I told him not to park his car in front of my shop, but he insulted me,” shopkeeper Abdelkrim Salouda, wearing a bloodstained gown, told Reuters.
“I punched him, I thought it was over, but after 30 minutes he came back with at least 50 Chinese to take revenge. It is a miracle I am still alive,” said 31-year-old Salouda.
Witnesses told Reuters about 60 Algerian residents joined the fight.
China warned its citizens in Algeria last month about possible attacks by al Qaeda’s North African wing in retribution for a Chinese government crackdown in the mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang.
Some local people at the scene in Algiers said that Chinese migrants did not respect Muslim traditions. But there was no evidence of any direct link between the brawl and the clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Employers in Algeria, Africa’s third-biggest economy, say Chinese workers will accept lower pay and are often better qualified than Algerians. Many big construction projects would grind to a halt without Chinese labour.
Official estimates put the number of Chinese in the Muslim former French colony at 35, 00, though many local people believe the real figure is much higher.
The Chinese influx mirrors a broader trend.
Academics estimate there could be about 750 000 Chinese in Africa, making them one of the continent’s biggest foreign communities. Investment has flooded in from Chinese firms seeking access to Africa’s mineral resources.
At the scene of the brawl, groups of Algerian residents stood outside buildings on yesterday where Chinese people live.
“We can’t live with them,” said shop owner Rachid Azoug, who was among a group of men watching a row of boarded up Chinese shops.
“They drink alcohol and do not respect our religion. They must leave.”
Ling Jun, a diplomat at the Chinese embassy, said local authorities were investigating the fighting. “We trust the Algerian police to shed light on what happened,” he said.
He said the incident would not dampen Chinese firms’ enthusiasm for doing business in Algeria. “Our friendship with Algeria is strong and this event is nothing in comparison with the links between our two countries,” he told Reuters.
The clashes appeared to stem from a combination of Algerians’ resentment at their lack of work and cultural misunderstandings between locals and Chinese, said Nacer Jabi, who teaches sociology at Algiers University.
“In poor areas unemployment is higher, and that could explain the anger of Algerian youth towards the Chinese workers,” Jabi told Reuters.
Pic: South of Algeria