Earthquake? Stop Moaning! (Algeria)

Article excerpt

For four days, Mohammed Boumriche had been waiting for aid workers and rescue teams to reach his home town of Zemmouri at the epicentre of the Algerian earthquake. "Where are they?" he said. "We're a rich country. We've got oil and we've got gas. But what does the state do when there's a problem? Nothing." He was wrong. The state did do something. It sent the president. Almost as soon as Boumriche had spoken, sirens could be heard throughout the northern coastal town that was once a beach resort for French colonialists.

A black Mercedes saloon drew up outside the remains of a mosque where youths were digging with their hands in an attempt to reach bodies in the rubble. The car door opened and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika emerged into the bright sunlight. Boumriche ran up to join the crowd that was gathering around the man who seems likely to stand for re-election next year. "Resign," they yelled. "Get out of here. Go back to France."

At first, Bouteflika did not seem to realise what they were shouting. He stepped forward to shake hands and dispense words of compassion, as he had done on the night of the earthquake in the provincial capital of Boumerdes. But as the first stones rained down, he froze. With security guards forming a scrum around him, he retreated to the Mercedes, although not before a French television reporter had asked him for his reaction. Bouteflika turned. "The Algerian people are always moaning," he said. "It was you, the French, who taught them to moan when you were here. It is your legacy."

They have certainly been moaning in Zemmouri over the past week. …