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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Berbers quit Algeria government
Demonstrators run away from tear gas fired by anti-riot police in Bejaia
The clashes pitted security forces against local youths
The main Berber political party in Algeria has pulled out of the government in protest against its handling of nearly two weeks of violent clashes in the mainly Berber region of Kabylie.

The announcement from the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) came amid news reports that as many as 80 people had died in the violence.

Secretary-General of the RCD, Said Sadi
Said Sadi described Kabylie events as a tragedy
At least 10 people were killed by Islamic extremists on Monday night, the Algerian security forces reported.

The RCD leader, Said Sadi described the events in Kabylie as a tragedy, adding that a government that fired on the people did not deserve the support of democrats.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley says the withdrawal of the RCD is a big moral blow to the government, which is already under fire for its handling of nine years of Islamist insurgency.

Earlier this week, the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he was setting up a commission of inquiry into the causes of the clashes. But his promise failed to convince the RCD.

Equal rights

The clashes, which pitted security forces against local youths, were sparked by the killing of a teenage student in police custody.

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

A group of protesters marches in Kabylie region of Algeria
The Berbers have long opposed Algeria's military-backed government
It is the main city of the fiercely independent Berber region, about 90km east of the capital, Algiers.

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.

The riots coincided with the anniversary of a state crackdown of the Berber Spring in 1980.

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

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See also:

01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers battle for recognition
30 Apr 01 | Middle East
Algeria probes Berber riots
30 Apr 01 | Middle East
Berber riots shake government
29 Apr 01 | Middle East
Clashes rage in Berber region
05 Jul 98 | Middle East
Only Arabic for Algeria
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
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