The southern city of Ghardaia, a long-standing haven of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between Algeria's Ibadite and Malikite communities, has been rocked by violence for weeks.

A 23-year-old died January 3rd, El Watan reported, the first fatality among more than 200 people wounded since clashes between rival youths began on December 22nd.

Sixty-one police officers were also injured, five of them seriously.

Mosbah Hammou, a member of the Front of Socialist Forces party in Ghardaia, has spoken of "nights of terror during which the town verged on civil war".

He accused "the parties of wanting to stoke up the fire and set the two communities, which have been living on good terms for years, one against the other".

The events continue to have repercussions. Parents have decided to keep their children away from school, while the majority of traders have decided to keep their shops closed for several days. This situation has forced a reaction from the government.

On January 2nd, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal brought together representatives of the two communities to try to restore calm to the region.

The head of government promised to distribute several thousand plots of land to members of the two communities; grant financial aid to help rebuild or restore what has been destroyed, and set up a joint council of senior figures to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and objective manner.

According to the statement on the meeting, "the two delegations comprising leading figures from the region undertook to return to the principles of harmonious coexistence and cohabitation."

The National Democratic Assembly's spokeswoman, Nouara Saadia Djâafar, called for the values of dialogue, concord and tolerance to prevail, whereas the chairman of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) hailed the prime minister's initiative, "even though it comes a little late".

The MSP added that they supported any initiative that was "likely to enable a return to calm in the wilaya and thus preserve Algeria's sovereignty and the unity of its people".

Still, peace in Ghardaia is precarious, leading the Islamic High Council (HCI) to announce that it will be sending a delegation to the area.

The delegation's goal is to "reconcile the different parties and spread the culture of peace and understanding between the residents of the region, which is known for its ulema and intellectuals".

The Islamic High Council called on citizens "to show wisdom, self-control and a sense of their responsibilities, and to ensure that the principles of dialogue and brotherhood preached by Islam prevail, in order to prevent a slide into more difficult situations with disastrous consequences".