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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Berber riots shake government
Students run for cover in the Berber town of Bejaia, in north-eastern Algeria
A week of riots is believed to have left 50 dead
A member of Algeria's ruling coalition has threatened to leave the government over the handling of a week of clashes between Berbers and the security forces that have left 50 people dead.

We condemn the repressive treatment by the government

Partner in the ruling coalition
In the first political repercussions of the violence, a senior official in the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) said the party was ready to leave the ruling coalition.

"We condemn the repressive treatment by the government and we are drawing political conclusions from this," Rafik Hassani, the RCD secretary-general, said.

"The decision will be made official tomorrow, after a meeting of our national council," Mr Hassani said.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is scheduled to address the nation on Monday evening, officials said, but is not clear whether he would mention the Berber riots.

President Bouteflika
President Bouteflika: Facing Islamist and now Berber challenges
In Paris on Sunday, more than 1,000 people demonstrated in front of Algeria's embassy on Sunday, accusing the authorities of being "assassins [killers]".

Pitched battles

On Saturday and Sunday, there were pitched battles between masked stone-throwing demonstrators and police firing teargas in the city of Tizi Ouzou.

It is the main city of the fiercely independent Berber region, about 90km (55 miles) east of Algiers.

These are serious events... We will deal with the issue

Interior Minister Noureddine Zerhouni

The Berbers, who make up about a third of the population, have long opposed Algeria's military-backed government and want their language to have an equal status to Arabic.

Correspondents say their main concerns are currently social ones, arising from mass unemployment and housing shortages, but the violence was sparked by a young Berber man in police custody.

Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni criticised the local authorities for failing to tackle Berber concerns, Algerian radio reported on Sunday.

"These are serious events," Mr Zerhouni said, ahead of a planned visit to Tizi Ouzou.

Clashes spread to villages across the Berber region
Clashes spread to villages across the Berber region
"It is a fact that the administration has problems communicating with constituents. We will deal with the issue. First, we will have maximum discussions with the people concerned and see how to find solutions," he added.

The riots, which correspondents say spread like wildfire to villages across the region, coincided with the anniversary of a state crackdown of the "Berber Spring" in 1980.

On Saturday, doctors at Tizi Ouzou's main hospital said four demonstrators had been killed by gunfire. One of the dead had been shot at point blank range in the head, a nurse said.

On Saturday alone, at least 29 people were killed in the Kabylie region, local residents said.

In Bejaia, further to the east, a protest march on the police station degenerated into violence, residents said.

Students, led by teachers, had intended to deliver a statement demanding that gendarmes leave the region and be replaced by other security forces.

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See also:

29 Apr 01 | Middle East
Clashes rage in Berber region
28 Apr 01 | Middle East
Algerian military suffers heavy blow
05 Jul 98 | Middle East
Only Arabic for Algeria
04 Jul 98 | Middle East
Berbers protest at Matoub killing
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
02 Jan 01 | Africa
Moroccan Berbers press for rights
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