- Associated Press - Monday, January 17, 2011

CAIRO (AP) — Protesters set themselves on fire in Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania on Monday in apparent copycat self-immolation attempts inspired by the act that helped trigger a popular uprising in Tunisia.

The desperate acts raised concerns that the practice could become a trend among activists seeking to force change in a region that has little or no tolerance for dissent.

The Egyptian man was engulfed by flames after he ignited himself outside the parliament building in central Cairo. Policemen guarding the building and motorists driving by at the time used fire extinguishers to quickly put out the blaze, according to security officials.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahine said the man was taken to the hospital with light burns, mostly to his face, neck and legs. Officials identified him as Abdu Abdel-Moneim Hamadah, a 48-year-old owner of a small restaurant from Qantara, an area close to the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, east of Cairo.

Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, said Mr. Hamadah was protesting a government policy preventing restaurant owners from buying cheap subsidized bread to resell to their patrons.

A subsidized loaf of typical Egyptian flat bread sells for about 1 U.S. cent apiece, but sells for five times that much to restaurant owners.

Mr. Hamadah asked policemen guarding the parliament building to meet speaker Fathi Sorour, officials said. When they refused, Mr. Hamadah stepped back, took out a bottle filled with petrol from his pocket, doused himself with the liquid and set himself alight.

The policemen and passing motorists rushed to him with fire extinguishers to put out the flames.

The website of Egypt’s leading Al-Ahram daily said Mr. Hamadah was a father of four and repeatedly entered heated arguments with local officials over the bread issue.

A Mauritanian man reportedly unhappy with the government also was hospitalized after setting himself on fire Monday.

Witnesses say 43-year-old Yacoub Ould Dahoud drove to a government building in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, and torched himself in his car. Foreign Ministry official Abdou Ould Sidi said police rushed him to the hospital.

Algeria, for its part, has reported cases of self-immolation in seven towns since Saturday, two of them Monday.

In Ghardaia, a man suffering from a chronic illness set himself on fire because of a dispute over medical costs. He was hospitalized with burns, a local official said.

In the town of Mascara, meanwhile, passers-by stopped a fishmonger who had poured gasoline on himself and kept him from setting himself alight, said an official.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns.

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