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    News from Algeria 2009


    ISLAMABAD, January 1, 2009 (APP): Algerian ambassador Benfis Ahmed on Thursday called on President Asif Ali Zardari and presented him with a cheque for one million dollars for the rehabilitation of Balochistan earthquake victims.

    President Zardari thanked the Algerian government and people for their support and solidarity with the victims of earthquake. He said Pakistan and Algeria had deep‑rooted ties dating back to the Algerian struggle for independence and expressed the hope that the time‑tested ties would be further strengthened in the years to come.

    Ambassador Dr. Benfis Ahmed said the Algerian people had not forgotten the critical assistance lent by Pakistan during the difficult days of independence struggle. He said Algeria supported the efforts aimed at peace and development through dialogue and negotiations. He said Algeria wished to see Pakistan prosper in the days ahead.

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    Rome, January 1, 2009 -- Four intrepid souls dived into the frigid waters of Rome's River Tiber on Thursday, observing a decades-old New Year's Day tradition, one achieving the feat for the 21st time.

    Maurizio Palmulli, 56, dived off of the Cavour Bridge as dozens of well-wishers cheered him on, with emergency workers and two ambulances standing by.

    Palmulli, a lifeguard with long white hair, notched up his 21st time taking the 17-metre (55-foot) plunge.

    The tattooed grandfather from nearby Ostia said he dedicated this year's dive to the victims of heavy flooding in December that claimed one life in Rome and at least three others elsewhere in Italy.

    Another professional diver, Marco Fois, took part in the dive for the 11th consecutive year.

    The 45-year-old bartender performed a double front flip on his way into the muddy, swirling river with the air temperature nudging over 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit), on a day of intermittent rain.

    "I'm a bit of an enthusiast for Roman culture and tradition," he told Italian television, noting that his father lived near Cavour Bridge when the Tiber "was still swimmable".

    "This is my duty, my only way of making a contribution to this city," he said.

    Yuri Zdanowicz of Poland kicked off the event by jumping in feet first, followed by Algerian Samir Bishara.

    The tradition was launched in 1946 when a Belgian expatriate, Rick De Sonay, made a habit of diving off the bridge at midnight each New Year's Eve, earning the nickname "Mr OK" from the reassurances he gave anxious onlookers after each dive.

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    Jeudi 1 Janvier 2009 -- L'Algérie va envoyer samedi une aide médicale à la population de la bande de Gaza, qui fait face depuis six jours à l'offensive militaire israélienne, a annoncé jeudi à Alger le ministre de la Solidarité, de la famille et de la communauté nationale à l'étranger, Djamel Ould Abbès. "Cette aide humanitaire sera envoyée par avion cargo à nos frères dans la bande de Gaza où les bombardements israéliens se poursuivent pour le sixième jour consécutif", a déclaré à la presse M. Ould Abbès en marge d'une visite rendue dans un hôpital d'Alger, selon l'agence APS.

    Ces aides comprennent 10.000 poches de sérum, 20.000 injections, des médicaments dont des antibiotiques et une station d'épuration d'eau, a ajouté M. Ould Abbès. Il a indiqué qu'une équipe médicale composée de chirurgiens orthopédistes et de pédiatres prendra son départ à Gaza à bord du même vol.

    L'Algérie a envoyé lundi vers les territoires palestiniens une aide humanitaire d'urgence de 61 tonnes destinée à la population de la bande de Gaza, qui fait l'objet d'une offensive militaire israélienne. Cette aide constituée de vivres et de médicaments a été acheminée lundi en fin de matinée à partir de l'aérodrome militaire de Boufarik (sud d'Alger) vers le Caire.

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    Algiers, January 2, 2009 - Algeria will send medical aid to the Gaza Strip by the end of this week, a government minister announced Thursday.

    National Solidarity Minister Djamel Ould Abbes told the APS news agency that Algerian aid would arrive in the stricken region on Saturday as it faced a sixth consecutive day of Israeli air strikes.

    Abbes added that a team of doctors and surgeons would accompany the aid package, which includes medical supplies.

    Algeria sent one aid package including food supplies and medicine on Monday.

    At least 414 Palestinians, mostly Hamas members but including scores of civilians, have been killed in the Israeli blitz on Hamas targets in Gaza that started on Saturday.

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    January 2, 2009 - Three months after catastrophic floods in southern Algeria's Ghardaia region killed 43 people and wiped out entire communities, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika travelled on Sunday (December 28th) to the M'zab Valley to learn whether the government kept its promise to help disaster survivors reclaim their lives.

    "I come as a brother to see his brother victims," the president told residents.

    In a symbolic gesture, the president handed out keys for rental chalets to a dozen victims who await construction of permanent homes in Ghardaia. Temporary housing units in the city are intended to end the misery of families still accommodated in shelters and tents.

    A total of 691 permanent homes are currently under construction, said Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni, who travelled with the head of state. A further 2,000 residences should be ready by the end of 2009 in the official disaster zones of Ghardaïa, Guerarra, Berriane, Daya Bendahoua, Bounoura, El Atef, Zelfana, Metlili and Sebseb.

    The day after the tragedy, the cabinet allocated 20 billion dinars to help flood victims. This amount was subsequently doubled to reach nearly half of the province’s capital budget for the entire 1999-2008 period.

    "We have more spaces in chalets than victims, not counting the social housing currently being built," Zerhouni asserted.

    The president also sought to reassure families displaced by the disaster that the government is committed to helping them.

    "The people of the M'zab Valley have not received aid from any foreign country or any other organisation," Bouteflika said. "It's the state which has taken full responsibility for the people of Ghardaia and it is the state which has handled the disaster."

    While laying the first stone for 1,300 social housing units in Wadi Nchou, 12 miles from the city centre, President Bouteflika insisted that all future construction projects must take flooding risks into consideration.

    To prevent a recurrence of the disaster, the 2009 emergency response plan allocates 5 billion dinars to build flood defences along the banks of wadis (valleys) and either demolish or move homes situated in flood-prone areas.


    When the floods hit on September 30th, many homes were on the riverbed of the wadi. El Ghaba in Boulila saw the worst flooding in recorded history. In this oasis, where homes nestle amidst palm trees and the banks of the wadi, the water reached a height of 12 metres during the floods. Evidence of the tragedy can still be seen.

    "Look at that, it looks as if the place was hit by an atom bomb," said survivor Hadj Said, pointing to homes destroyed by the raging floodwaters.

    Moussa, another victim, shows us the remains of his home and the posts he had just repainted. His wife was pregnant when the flood hit; she later gave birth in a shelter. "I can't even get my stuff back," he said wistfully.

    "There's no way I can build another home here. Even if you gave me a billion dinars, I wouldn't live here again," he told Magharebia.

    This view is not shared by all the inhabitants of the M'zab Valley, for whom oases are a way of life. They believe that the hill overlooking the oasis could be used as the site for a new settlement, in keeping with the traditions and architecture of the region.

    For now, however, this is unlikely to happen.

    Thirty-one families continue to live in dreadful conditions at a shelter for victims in a private Islamic school. Initially there were 181 families, but many of them chose to receive a rental allowance of 12,000 dinars per month. Others went to stay with relatives.

    Those living in the shelter liken it to a ghetto.

    "We've been abandoned," one resident said. "They give us really bad food parcels. There's no heat and we struggle to cope with the icy cold, especially at night."

    In a bid to draw the attention of local officials to their plight, victims of the disaster went on a three-day hunger strike. Some were even hospitalised as a result. Despite this extreme action, they say, nothing has been done to alleviate their suffering, not even during Eid al-Adha, when a single sheep "given by a benefactor was shared by 31 families".

    The flood victims of Boulila no longer know where to turn. Last week, they were told to get ready to be moved into chalets. They soon became disillusioned. "We've got no idea when or where we'll be re-housed," one victim said.

    The damage has been categorised, with some ruined houses deemed "Orange 4" and others which are unusable or inaccessible rated "Green 1". The locals called particular attention to houses that collapsed two months after the flooding. Built mostly out of toub (baked clay), they fell like a house of cards when they dried out.

    In another part of the valley, not far from the new chalet site in Bouhrawa, the exhibition hall has been transformed into a shelter for flood victims. Seventy-five families are cooped up in appalling conditions.

    The flood victims forced to live there come from the working-class district of Baba Saad in the centre of Ghardaia. Most of them rented their homes in an area hit hard by the floods on what is now known as "Black Wednesday".

    They are now packed like sardines in a large shed with wooden partitions and no roof. Some are outside in tents. They also have to worry about security, despite the presence of guards at the site. The victims are convinced that they have been left to their own devices.

    "For the first few days, the local authorities took good care of us and came to see us regularly. But after that, nothing happened…We've been abandoned, forgotten about," said Fatima, close to despair.

    Families recalled pledges made by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who promised to permanently re-house disaster victims within two and a half years. They believe the availability of land in the south of the country ought to help the government honour its commitments, but openly express fears that the process will take a long time.

    Fatima described the hardships faced by families who live in the exhibition hall: ice-cold temperatures, poor hygiene and inadequate food parcels.

    In their temporary accommodations – just a stone's throw away from a site where chalets are being built – the victims are at their wits' end.

    "On December 20th they promised we'd be relocated, but gave no details," one survivor said. "All we know is that we've been asked to choose five families to meet the president when he comes to visit."

    President Bouteflika's visit ought to have kick-started the process of relocating flood victims to permanent housing, but for now, just a few families have been moved in a symbolic gesture. The others will have to wait, but for how long, no one knows. The fears of those at the Bouhraoua shelter are palpable.

    "We're worried there will be a repeat of what happened after previous natural disasters, when victims had to wait for years to be re-housed," said Said, who lost everything – including his job – in the floods of September.

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    ALGIERS, January 2, 2009 (KUNA) -- The Algerian general federation for free students announced here on Friday that rallies protesting the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip would be held on Saturday in all universities. The federation also revealed a national rally in Algiers for Monday to support Gazans in their current ordeal. The media coordinator at the federation Abdelhamid Othman told KUNA that the rallies "would hopefully reflect some kind of support to the brothers in Palestine." The Israeli attacks on Gaza have so far killed over 400 people and also injured about 2,000 others.

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    ALGIERS, January 2, 2009 (KUNA) -- Algerian security authorities on Friday banned two demonstrations aimed at expressing support for the Palestinian people in Gaza. Policemen intervened and dispersed a demonstration at its launch after the Friday prayers outside a mosque in Qubbah, Upper Algiers, witnesses said. In the center of the city, police dispersed a protest that emerged from Hey Balkour Mosque. Authorities have banned public protests since 2001, when Berber activists staged a large demonstration.

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