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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK
Algeria's Berbers get language rights
Algerian police at Larbaa
Algerian police will come under investigation
By North Africa correspondent David Bamford

The Government of Algeria says it has agreed to a series of demands by the ethnic Berber community, including official recognition of the Berber language.

A statement issued by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said that a constitutional amendment will be drawn up instituting the change.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Bouteflika: Constitutional amendment
Such reforms had previously been strongly opposed by powerful circles in the majority Arab community, in particular the military, as well as by the Islamist movement.

A statement issued by President Bouteflika said the government had agreed to the demands after serious unrest flared up following the killing of Berber protestors by police last April.

The recognition of the Berber language, known as Tamazight, as an official language of the country will require changing the constitution.

It is nothing short of a fundamental reappraisal of the way Algeria regards itself.

Since independence from France in 1962, the majority Arab community, backed by both the military and Islamist lobbies, have maintained that Arabic must be the sole language to be recognised by the state.

That has always been regarded as an affront by the Berbers, who claim to represent over a quarter of the population and say their culture and language are distinct.

The impetus for the change has been the recent Berber unrest which has provoked a wave of ethnic sentiment that brought hundreds of thousands of Berbers onto the streets, clearly startling the military-backed government.


Its announcement of concessions comes as Prime Minister Ali Benflis begins a series of conciliatory meetings with Berber leaders.

He is telling them that the government will also agree to initiate legal proceedings against paramilitary police accused of shooting dead some 60 Berber civilians during the recent clashes.

An official inquiry has already judged that the deaths were a result of police over-reaction to peaceful protests.

Compensation for victims is also to be paid and other demands, including regional economic improvements, are to be considered.

algerian timeline puffobx
See also:

24 Sep 01 | Middle East
Algeria hears Berber demands
13 Aug 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Can the Berber revolt survive?
20 Aug 01 | Middle East
Berbers march for their rights
08 Aug 01 | Middle East
Police move to block Berber march
19 Jun 01 | Middle East
Rising tide of Berber unrest
01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers battle for recognition
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
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