Algeria pledges to crush Salafists, open energy sector

In the wake of the third deadly suicide bombing to hit the country in four months, Algeria’s government has vowed to eradicate armed Islamist groups—but also warned of new attacks. Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni called for “greater vigilance” from the population, and said the latest blast claimed by al-Qaeda would only bolster the government’s “determination” to continue its crackdown. The July 11 truck bomb attack on the army barracks at Lakhdaria, which killed 10 soldiers and wounded 35, was designed to coincide with the opening in Algiers of the All Africa Games and the end of a lightning visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and renamed itself “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” claimed responsibility for the attack. “The explosion killed more than 70 soldiers while dozens more of the apostates were wounded,” claimed a purported spokesperson in an audio tape broadcast by AlJazeera television. El Watan daily said the bombing was al-Qaeda’s direct response to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s speech to defense chiefs last week, in which the president said the militants are “enemies of the people” and urged a renewed military campaign against them. Around 20 people have been killed in Islamist-related violence in Algeria since the beginning of the month.

The French president visited Tunisia and Algeria to build support for the idea of a “Mediterranean Union,” to coordinate regional efforts against terrorism and illegal immigration. (IOL, South Africa, July 12)

In other news, Algeria has agreed to strike out “anti-competitive” clauses in its gas deals with European Union countries, in a move that bolsters the European Commission’s efforts to liberalize regional energy markets. In a deal finalized July 11 after years of negotiation, Sonatrach, the Algerian state gas company, will scrap “destination clauses” that prohibit buyers of Algerian gas from reselling the gas to a third party outside a designated market.

The Commission opposed such clauses, saying they prevent a liquid market from developing across the EU. Neelie Kroes, the Competition Commissioner said: “The agreement reached constitutes a major breakthrough in our relations with one of Europe’s most important suppliers for natural gas and eliminates an important obstacle for the creation of a single EU-wide market in gas.” (London Times, July 12)

France and Algeria are meanwhile in talks over the sharing of nuclear energy technology and research. If the collaboration goes forward, Algerian engineers could receive training in France from Areva, the world’s largest nuclear power group. Last month, Algeria country signed a nuclear power agreement with the United States to explore possible joint projects. (UPI, July 12)

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