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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Berbers demand 'native rights'
Berber women
Berbers seek official recognition of their language (Photo: World Amazigh Congress)
By the BBC's Nick Pelham in Rabat

The annual Labour Day march in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, has been marked by a rally of Berber activists calling for an end to Arab dominance in Morocco.

Amid tight security, some 200 Berber activists took part in the annual Workers' Day march to demand the official recognition of their culture and language, Amazigh.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI
King Mohammed VI faces growing Berber actvism
The small band of activists was led through the streets of Rabat by the president of the World Berber Congress, chanting that Africa was for Africans, not for Arabs.

Thousands of Moroccans looked on as the activists marched through the city.

The activists said they were voicing their demands on Labour Day to circumvent government restrictions.

Morocco's 'first people'

Last March, the authorities banned a Berber protest in Rabat on grounds of national security.

Morocco's Islamic militants
Islamic protesters called for all political prisoners to be freed
Since independence from France, the Moroccan authorities have classed Amazigh as a dialect, but it is spoken by a majority of Moroccans.

Arabic is Morocco's official language and French is still widely used in the media and commerce, but there is growing demand for the recognition of what Berbers call their native rights.

The Berbers say they were the first and original people that inhabited Morocco and much of North Africa before the arrival of the Arabs.

They believe the language of Morocco should be Amazigh and not Arabic.

Growing activism

The May Day protest is the latest sign of growing Berber activism under the new King of Morocco, Mohammed VI.

Last week Berber leaders published a manifesto calling on the state to license a Berber television station, teach Berber in schools and end restrictions on registering Berber names for their children.

For many politicians, such concessions could spark separatist tendencies.

But Berber activists say the longer the government denies them their cultural rights, the greater the tensions will grow.

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See also:

24 Jul 99 | Africa
Testing time for new king
31 Jul 99 | Africa
Morocco frees prisoners
03 Apr 00 | Africa
Morocco's quest to be European
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