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ALGIERS (Reuters Life!) - An Algerian who says he can eat light bulbs, candles, sawdust, nails and over 1,000 boiled eggs in one sitting is itching to enter the record books and earn the pride of his compatriots.
Salim Haini, alias El Akoul (The Eater), discovered his digestive talents eight years ago during the Ramadan month of fasting and prayer, when he found the enormous meals he ate after sunset did little to satisfy his stomach.
Since then his appetite has steadily grown.
"I've eaten two barrels of olive oil in one go, 40 loaves of bread, 75 bowls of chorba (Algerian soup)...," Haini told Reuters. "I once ate an entire roast lamb weighing 35 kilos."
Like most young Algerians, Haini is unemployed and on some days he goes without a proper meal.
His cravings once got him into trouble when he awoke hungry, stole into his uncle's vegetable patch and devoured 50 kg of lettuces, said Haini's manager Karim Rahal.
Friends and relatives in his home town of Ain Defla suggested he put his appetite to work and enter competitions.
"I'm now the eating champion in 30 wilayas (provinces) across the country," said Haini. "God willing, the authorities will help me travel abroad and become the first Arab to eat his way into the Guinness Book of World Records."
"This would be a true honor for me, for the Algerian people and for all Arab countries. The record books are not only for foreigners. They are there for everyone."
He said people from China, Belgium and Britain had encouraged him to eat for Algeria but he lacked the necessary sponsorship.
Competition will be tough. The record for the world's strangest diet is held by Frenchman Michel Lotito who over the years consumed 128 bicycles, 15 supermarket trolleys, six chandeliers, two beds and a pair of skis.
Lotito reportedly suffered no ill effects from his eating and once said bananas and eggs made him sick.
Eggs happen to be Haini's favorite food -- he said he once ate 1,500 of them in under three hours.
At a commercial center in Algiers, dozens of curious shoppers gathered to witness the goatee-bearded 25-year-old apply his digestive talents to a table-load of light bulbs, animal fat and newspapers.
"I do these displays to satisfy my stomach a little," he said. "I am never ill -- in fact I feel on top form afterwards."
"It would be easy to invite him for dinner," Fatiha, 56, said after the show. "I could just feed him newspaper, dud light bulbs and a raw potato. But I'd never take him to a restaurant. He'd ruin me."
Gasps erupted from the audience at the shopping center as Haini bit a neon strip light in half then chewed and swallowed the glass.
Not everyone was impressed.
"Why didn't he eat the whole bulb?" asked one small girl.
Writing by Tom Pfeiffer, editing by Paul Casciato