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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
'Fourteen dead' in Algeria prison fire
Fourteen prisoners have been killed and 11 injured in a fire that spread through a high security jail in Algeria on Tuesday night, local officials have said.

The blaze - in the Serkadji prison in Algiers - appeared to have been started by prisoners who set fire to their mattresses after seeing a 19-year-old inmate try to commit suicide.

Most of the detainees at the prison are Islamists sentenced to death or serving life sentences after being found guilty of terrorist activities.

They include army officer Lembarek Boumaarafi, sentenced to death for the assassination of President Mohammed Boudiaf in 1992.

It is not yet known whether Boumaraafi was among the casualties.

More than 90 people, most of them prisoners, died at Serkadji in 1994 when detainees clashed with troops in a failed mass breakout.

More accidents possible

Justice Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, visiting the prison after Tuesday's fire, said he would improve conditions in the country's old and overcrowded prisons.

"Despite efforts to improve anti-fire measures, such accidents are possible again," the APS news agency quoted him as saying.

Another fire killed 22 prisoners and injured 20 others four weeks ago in Chelghoum El Aid, a town 300 km (190 miles) east of Algiers.

Algeria has around 40,000 prisoners, although its official prison capacity is only 34,000.

It has carried out no death sentences since 1993, according to human rights activists.

See also:

18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Algeria tackles Islamic militants
06 Mar 02 | Middle East
Militants 'storm Algerian barracks'
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Families die in Algerian attack
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
Algeria's decade of bloody conflict
18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
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