ALGIERS — A cold weather spell has killed at least 44 people in Algeria over the past week, sparking strong press criticism of what it sees as the government's poor response to the emergency situation.

Channel Three radio, quoting official sources, Thursday said 30 died in road accidents caused by the weather, and 14 of asphyxia because of poor heating devices.

"Where are you mister ministers?" the popular Ecchourouk newspaper asked Thursday, accusing them of spending more time on the upcoming May general elections than dealing with relief for those caught out by the bitter weather.

"A catastrophe and no emergency relief to deal with it," wrote El Khabar newspaper.

"What is the government waiting for to proclaim a state of emergency a week after the start of the cold spell" that affects 20 of the country's 48 regions, it asked.

Newspapers also criticised a sudden increase in food prices, along with that of gas bottles, used for heating, whose price has been multiplied five or sixfold.

A number of bakers have closed because of lack of flour, Channel Three radio said, while fuel and medicine were short in several parts of the northeast of the country.

Some 80 per cent of roads remained closed because of snow despite efforts by the army to clear them, press reports said.

The cold weather has swept down from the Arctic, putting much of Europe in a deep freeze and reaching as far as North Africa.