Tuesday, June 01, 2004

In Algiers, a tragic end to Jamel Talib's golden dream

He rushed through security into courtyard of the Tahar-Djaout press building. A safe place at the heart of the capital; most Algerian dailies have their offices there. Nothing might have hinted at his intentions save the fact that he appeared to be soaked. Before the chattering reporters, he lit a cigarette lighter. His clothes, soused in gasoline, instantly burst into flames. Transformed into a torch, the man ran ten meters. His screaming, the smell, the smoke... When at last an extinguisher was found and emptied on him, Jamel Talib was still alive. He was even conscious. Spread out on the ground, his arms in a cross, he complained and begged loudly that his messaged be relayed. He spoke of injustice, of hogra ("contempt"), of sacrifice and of an investigating magistrate who was responsible, he said, for his misery. He interspersed his sentences with "O, my God," "Long live Algeria" and "Down with corruption..." He died Friday, May 21, three days after being admitted to an Algiers hospital.

Though 15 reporters witnessed the scene, only those of El Watan bothered to look into the man's identity. Jamel Talib was just over 40 years old. A father of three children, he lived in Djelfa, 300 kilometers to the south of the capital. After two years of law studies, he had several lines of work: shop-keeper, martial arts trainer, taxi driver. In 1991, he acquired a plot of land and hoped to put a shopping center there. He gave it name: "Djelfa's golden dream." But the dream turned into a nightmare. Too many debts, scams and unscrupulous creditors. When Jamel Talib tried to negotiate, he bumped up against Algeria's open wound: "administrative terrorism," as he called it. In July 2002, his parcel of land was sold for a song by the bank to a powerful businessman. Jamel Talib spoke of fraud, wailed, demanding an investigation, and knocked on every door. On May 17, he left Djelfa for Algiers. The following day, Tuesday, he immolated himself.

Florence Beaugé

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