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2 killed, 300 injured in Algerian riots

By the CNN Wire Staff
Protestors clash with riot police on January 7, 2011 in central Oran, 430 kilometres (270 miles) west of Algiers.
Protestors clash with riot police on January 7, 2011 in central Oran, 430 kilometres (270 miles) west of Algiers.
  • The protests erupted earlier in the week amid rising food prices
  • Similar protests have taken place in neighboring Tunisia
  • Washington is closely monitoring the situation
  • Algeria
  • Tunisia

(CNN) -- At least two people have been killed and 300 others injured in riots that erupted across Algeria amid rising food prices and a housing crisis, state-run media said Saturday.

The protests began earlier in the week over spiraling costs of basic food items, including milk, oil and sugar. Some staples are subsidized by the government.

Trade Minister Mustapha Benbada said food prices were on the agenda for a Saturday meeting between lawmakers, state-run Algerie Press Service reported.

"I think we are beginning to contain this crisis and we want to find a solution early next week," Benbada said in a statement.

Similar protests, some violent, have erupted in neighboring Tunisia, where at least four people have died. Human rights groups have said the Tunisian government has cracked down on demonstrators with force.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the arrests and disappearances of bloggers and online activists across a number of Tunisian cities.

The worldwide press freedom organization said police arrested the bloggers to question them about hacking into government websites. One of those arrested was Hamadi Kaloutcha, who who has not been heard from since his arrest at 6 a.m. Friday, the group said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington was monitoring the situation in both countries. The Tunisian ambassador was summoned to the State Department.

"We are concerned about demonstrations that have occurred over the past few days in Tunisia," Crowley said. "They appear to us to be the result of ongoing social and economic unrest. We, obviously, want to see restraint on all sides.

"The people of Tunisia have the right to exercise free -- public assembly." he said. "And we have conveyed our views directly to the Tunisian Government."

He said the United States was also concerned about the reports of cyber intrusion and was urging everyone -- from the government to activists -- to respect freedom of expression.

Crowley said it was "difficult" to say whether the protests in Tunisia were related to those in Algeria.

"We're not going to say that there's kind of an overlapping dynamic across the two countries," he said. "But we continue to review this and both engage the government in Algeria and as well as look after the safety of our own citizens."

A national soccer league in Algeria has canceled matches scheduled for Friday and Saturday after riots in the capital and elsewhere this week.

The matches were canceled in an effort to prevent large groups of young people from gathering, a local newspaper, Al Watan, reported.

The protesters have been mostly young men who have broken into buildings and burned tires on the streets.

Adding fuel to the protesters' anger are the high rates of unemployment and housing issues, socio-economic problems that have been festering for some time.

The government has blamed the rising prices and other issues on the global economic crisis.