August 4, 2009 / 3:00 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Chinese, Algerians brawl in Algiers - witnesses

* Locals say about 100 people involved in fight, three hurt

* Official figures say 35,000 Chinese work in Algeria

* High unemployment fuels local resentment: expert

* No evidence of link to perceived al Qaeda threat

(Edits, adds background, quotes)

By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS, Aug 4 (Reuters) - About a hundred Algerians and Chinese migrant workers fought using knives and bludgeons in the capital Algiers, witnesses said on Tuesday, in an unprecedented flare-up of local anger at Chinese immigration.

Planeloads of Chinese workers have been arriving in the North African oil producer, mostly to work on state-funded construction projects, but their presence has fuelled resentment in a country where 7 out of 10 adults under 30 are unemployed.

Witnesses said three people were injured in the brawl on Monday in the eastern district of Bab Ezzouar, an area known to locals as “Chinatown”. They said it was sparked by a confrontation between a shop owner and Chinese motorist.

“I told him not to park his car in front of my shop, but he insulted me,” shopkeeper Abdelkrim Salouda, who was 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 Salouda, 31, whose head was bandaged.

Witnesses told Reuters about 60 Algerian residents also joined in the brawl.

China last month warned its citizens in Algeria about possible attacks from al Qaeda’s North African wing in retribution for a Chinese government crackdown in the Muslim region of Xinjiang. For a story, click on [ID:nPEK193325]

Some local people at the scene of the fighting in Algiers said on Tuesday Chinese migrants did not respect Muslim traditions. But there was no evidence of any direct link between the brawl and the recent clashes between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

CULTURE CLASH

Official estimates put at 35,000 the number of Chinese in Algeria, a Muslim former French colony and Africa’s third-biggest economy. Many local people believe the real figure is much higher.

Employers say Chinese workers will accept lower pay and are often better qualified than Algerians.

The Chinese influx mirrors a broader trend across Africa.

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 Tuesday where Chinese people live. Other residents said Chinese families were trapped inside their homes because they feared an attack if they go outside.

“We can’t live with them,” said shop owner Rachid Azoug, who was among a group of men watching a row of Chinese shops that were boarded up.

“They drink alcohol and do not respect our religion. They must leave.”

An official at the Chinese embassy in Algiers said it would be issuing a comment later on Tuesday.

Nacer Jabi, a teacher of sociology at Algiers University, said Algerians were unaccustomed to contact with migrants because a conflict between Islamist militants and the government in the 1990s had made the country off-limits to most foreigners.

“In poor areas, unemployment is higher and that could explain the anger of Algerian youth towards the Chinese workers,” Jabi told Reuters.

Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Michael Roddy

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