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TIZI OUZOU: The death toll climbed to at least 69 as firefighters, soldiers and civilian volunteers battled blazes in forests across northern Algeria on Wednesday, in the latest wildfires to sweep the Mediterranean.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning starting from Thursday, and authorities say they suspect widespread arson after so many fires erupted in such a short space of time.

In an update, state-run news agency APS said the rash of more than 50 fires that broke out Tuesday had claimed four more lives, in addition to state television’s toll of 65 dead, including 28 soldiers deployed to help overstretched emergency services.

Several arrests have been announced, but the identities or suspected motives of those detained have not been disclosed. Images of trapped villagers, terrified livestock and forested hillsides reduced to blackened stumps were shared on social media, many of them accompanied by pleas for help.

AFP journalists saw villagers desperately trying to put out the spreading fires with makeshift brooms in an effort to save their homes.

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