17 dead in 2 bombings in Algeria

( AP ) - Bombs targeting the prime minister's office and a police station killed at least 17 people and wounded dozens on Wednesday in Algeria, the country's official news agency said.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem called the attack a "cowardly, criminal terrorist act" as he spoke to reporters outside his wrecked offices. Six floors of the building were partially ripped away, and the iron gates outside were bent by the force of the blast.

The attacks were a devastating setback for the North African nation's efforts to close the chapter on its Islamic insurgency that has killed 200,000 people. After years of relative calm, an al-Qaida affiliate recently has recently waged several smaller attacks.

Belkhadem declined to say how many had been killed or wounded. The official APS agency reported that the bombing of the government building killed at least nine people and injured 32, and that eight others were killed and 50 wounded in the attack on the police station of Bab Ezzouar, east of the capital, on the road to its airport.

A charred, wrecked car lay on the pavement about 98 feet from the gates of the government building - a modern white, block-like high-rise that also houses the Interior Ministry. It was not immediately clear if the car had been involved in the bombing.

Police cordoned off stairs leading up to the government building with orange police tape, and paramedics raced up the steps with stretchers. Paramedics escorted a man with blood on his head into an ambulance. Another woman, looking dazed and in tears, was checked for head injuries.

The explosion at about 10:45 local time caused windows to rattle at least a half-mile away. Few details were immediately available about the other attack east of the capital.

Algeria's insurgency broke out in 1992, after the army canceled legislative elections that an Islamic party appeared set to win.

Since then, violence related to the insurgency has left an estimated 200,000 dead - civilians, soldiers and Islamic fighters - according to the government. Algeria's military led a crackdown on militants hiding out in the country's brush and mountains, while the government tried to reconcile the nation with several amnesty offers to militants willing to turn in their weapons.

Belkhadem expressed bitterness at insurgents who refused the amnesty offers.

"The Algerian people stretched out a hand to them, and they respond with a terrorist act," he said.

Large-scale violence died down in the late 1990s, but skirmishes have surged in recent months as an al-Qaida affiliate carried out a deadly and carefully planned series of bomb attacks. Several targeted foreign workers.

A March 3 bombing of a bus carrying workers for a Russian company killed a Russian engineer and three Algerians. A December attack near Algiers and targeting a bus carrying foreign employees of an affiliate of Halliburton killed an Algerian and a Lebanese citizen.

Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa - the new name for the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French abbreviation GSPC - claimed responsibility for both attacks.

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