The demonstrations, however, have not stopped, and on Monday hundreds protested in the desert towns of Ghardaia, which the next day degenerated into widespread clashes with police that destroyed several government buildings and resulted in the arrest of seven young men for "vandalism and destruction of public property," the state news agency reported Saturday.

"The demonstrations are continuing because the young unemployed don't believe in official promises and they don't trust the local government representatives or their parliamentarians â¿¿ they want to negotiate directly with the government," said Kamal Zaidi, a member of an unemployed group in Laghouat and a human rights activist.

Most worrying for the government is that, on Friday, Al-Qaida's North African branch expressed solidarity with the demonstrations, slamming what they say is the corrupt use of the country's resources.

"The events of the south and the call of the people to protest in the streets is the natural response to the policy of marginalization and nepotism used by the corrupt Algerian regime," said the message posted on extremist websites.

Al-Qaida's signature tactic around the world has been to find marginalized groups in remote areas and espouse their cause, much the way they did with the disenfranchised Tuareg tribesmen in northern Mali, setting up a foothold that later became a de facto state before they were routed by the French in February.

In January, an al-Qaida-linked group for the first time attacked one of the country's remote desert gas plants.

While the leaders of Al-Qaida's Algerian branch are predominantly from the populous north, the leader of the attack on the Ain Amenas gas complex in January that left 37 hostages dead was a southerner â¿¿ Lamine Bencheneb, part of the radical Sons of Sahara armed Islamic group.

In the attack, the multinational team of militants appeared to know the complex inside and out, sparking reports that they may have had allies among the site's local drivers who had gone on strike over low pay just weeks earlier.

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