FEATURE-Algiers residents expect more trouble after riots
* Clashes last week killed 2 people, injured hundreds
* Government reacted by cutting food prices
* People in capital say real issues still not addressed
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Jan 11 (Reuters) - A wave of rioting last week in Algeria ended when the government reversed food price rises, but for 73-year-old Amar Macha, that changes nothing.
He lives with 11 other members of his family -- including three sons and their wives -- in an apartment measuring 10 square metres.
The Diar El Kehf neighbourhood where he lives was one of several in the Algerian capital that blew up into clashes between residents and police after prices for sugar and cooking oil shot up.
Nationwide, two people were killed and hundreds wounded, according to the latest official figures, when stone-throwing crowds confronted police in towns across the country.
For a story on riots subsiding [ID:nLDE7080FZ]
For a story on African food prices [ID:nLDE7060JY]
The government -- flush with cash from energy exports -- cut taxes and import duties on the staple foods to reduce their price by 41 percent.
But Macha, like many people in his neighbourhood, said that solution glossed over the real problem.
"The government is wrong to think that sugar and oil are behind the riots," he told Reuters.
"Bad living conditions, social malaise, and corruption are the real causes of the riots," he said.
"I have been here since 1959. A wife, three sons, three daughters in law, and four grandsons live here. My dream is to get a state-subsidised home that will allow my family to have more space," he said.
This points to a worrying issue for the Algerian government: that even with its vast cash pile -- it has minimal debt and about 150 billion dollars in foreign exchange reserves -- it is not capable of quickly addressing the fundamental problems behind the rioting.
People in Macha's neighbourhood certainly expect that the clashes will start again, sooner or later.
"I will continue to riot until the day I get a state-subsidised apartment," said Brahim Matloaa, who described himself as a specialist in rioting.
"I will never stop, and I don't care about what politicians may say."
The government recognises that there is a housing problem and has committed to building a million new units.
Almost every month, the authorities in the capital raze slum areas and move hundreds of residents, en masse, into smart new apartment blocks built with public money.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, re-elected to a third term in 2009, has said improving housing conditions and creating jobs is a national priority.
"All the oil money has been invested in development programmes, but we need time to satisfy everybody as zero investment has been carried out in the 1990s," Bouteflika's personal representative, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, told reporters last week.
Algeria is recovering from nearly two decades of conflict between government forces and Islamist rebels which, at is peak in the 1990s, killed an estimated 200,000 people.
The Diar El Kehf housing complex -- the name is Arabic for House of the Cave -- is made up of apartment blocks built during French colonial rule in the 1950s. Algeria won independence from France in 1962.
Macha's apartment was originally built with one room -- plus a bathroom and kitchen -- but has been converted into three bedrooms.
Macha's family, like many in Algeria, are poor but not destitute.
He receives a pension of 15,000 Algerian dinars ($200) per month. His oldest son, who works as a security agent in a state owned firm, gets 24,000 dinars. The two other sons are unemployed. The bread, milk, electricity and gas that the family consume are all heavily subsidised.
"There is no starvation in Algeria, but it is impossible for me to buy a house on the market because the cheapest one will be around 8 million dinars" he said.
The biggest obstacle to building new housing faster, say people in the construction sector, is Algeria's notoriously tangled red tape and a creaking bureaucracy.
It can take years to complete a building project. Even when people are re-housed, that itself can cause unrest as other residents protest that they were not given a new home too.
The private sector cannot fill the gap because there are few property developers, and getting housing loans from the banks is extremely difficult.
Many private Algerian houses are one-storey buildings with concrete pillars jutting into the sky from the flat roof. The owners are waiting until they have saved enough cash to build the second floor.
Some foreign banks have entered the housing market in the past few years and may make mortgages more readily available.
Whatever improvement happens, it is unlikely to come fast enough to dissuade at least some people in Diar El Kehf from mounting more violent protests in the future.
"The young people will not stop rioting," said a local man, who gave his name as Amar. "They are fed up, and they have nothing to lose." (Editing by Giles Elgood)
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