ALGIERS (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed 14 people when he blew himself up in the Algerian town of Batna on Thursday shortly before a scheduled visit by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the interior minister said.
Bouteflika, who later visited some of the dozens wounded in hospital, blamed Islamist rebels, denouncing them as “criminals”.
“These people are working for the interests of foreign capitals and foreign leaders,” he added, without elaborating.
Residents said the blast took place among a crowd waiting to see the president arrive in the town 430 km (270 miles) southeast of the capital Algiers.
Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said 14 people had been killed and 60 wounded, most of them lightly, by the explosion, the official APS news agency reported. State television had earlier reported 15 dead.
“A suspect person in the crowd tried to get through the security cordon. Pushed back by an agent of the security forces, this person ran off. Immediately afterwards the explosion took place,” Zerehouni said.
Bouteflika accused Islamist militants of trying to scuttle his policy of national reconciliation, which is aimed at ending 15 years of fighting between the army and groups trying to set up a purist Islamic state.
“Terrorist acts have absolutely nothing in common with the noble values of Islam,” APS quoted him as saying, adding he would never abandon the reconciliation policy.
Conflict broke out in Algeria in 1992 after military-backed authorities scrapped parliamentary elections that an Islamist party was set to win. The authorities had feared an Islamic revolution.
Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in 15 years of violence.
Political violence has subsided in recent years but a hard core of about 500 rebels, now grouped in the so-called al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, continues to fight mainly in the Kabylie region east of the capital Algiers.
The group claimed responsibility for triple suicide bombings in Algiers on April 11 that killed 33 people, and also for a July 11 suicide truck bombing east of the Algerian capital that killed eight soldiers.
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