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The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"These demonstrators want an international inquiry into the police handling of the Berber unrest"
 real 56k

Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Police crack down on Berber rally
Young Berbers flee tear gas in Bejaia
Riots have wracked Algeria over the last 10 days
Algerian riot police fired tear gas on Thursday to disperse hundreds of young Berbers demonstrating against a police crackdown on nation-wide riots over the last 10 days.

Protesters in Bejaia threw stones at security forces, who were in massive force throughout the city, the second biggest in the north-eastern province of Kabylie.

The demonstrators had intended to march toward a main regional government building, but instead scattered into surrounding streets.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
President Bouteflika's national address on the riots
The rally in Bejaia was one of a number of peace marches throughout Kabylie and in the capital, Algiers, on Thursday.

Bloody riots

The protesters were demonstrating against perceived brutality in the police's response to riots across Algeria which unofficial reports say have claimed up to 80 lives.

The clashes were sparked by the killing of a teenage student in police custody.

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 opposition Socialist Forces Front (FFS) party, which has its roots in the predominantly Berber region of Kabylie, led the rally in Algiers.

International appeal

On Wednesday, the party's leader, Hocine Ait-Ahmed appealed to the international community to intervene.

The FFS has accused the Algerian authorities of "having knowingly transformed peaceful demonstrations into riots to justify the unjustifiable: using live bullets and preparing the ground for hardline intervention."

A group of protesters marches in Kabylie region of Algeria
The Berbers want official recognition of their own language and culture
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday promised a "free and open investigation" into the clashes", but local press pointed out that his address was given in formal Arabic that few Berbers could have understood.

The commission will be headed by Mohand Issad, a respected expert in international law, state media announced on Wednesday

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told the National Assembly that France, former colonial ruler, "cannot remain silent today."

Vedrine said that "this problem, so acute, so grave, today pathetic", can only be solved through political dialogue.

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See also:

01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers quit Algeria government
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
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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