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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 18:22 GMT 19:22 UK

World: Africa

Algerian police fire on Matoub protestors

Matoub's mourners believe the government was involved in his death

Riot police in Algeria have fired tear gas at crowds marking the anniversary of the murder last year of a popular Berber singer.

The violence broke out in Tizi-Ouzou east of Algiers, a stronghold of Berber-speaking Algerians.

The protestors shouted slogans alleging that the government was involved in the death of Lounes Matoub who was shot in June 1998.

The government says he was killed in an ambush by Muslim militants - a claim confirmed by dissident members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

The death of Matoub provoked widespread protests and mourning, especially in his native Kabyle region which is dominated by Berbers.

Stones hurled

He was one of the most famous Berber language singers and his songs asserted berber cultural rights, often criticising the then government and islamic militants.

[ image: Lounes Matoub's songs asserted berber cultural rights]
Lounes Matoub's songs asserted berber cultural rights
More than 50,000 people attended his funeral.

The demonstrators hurled stones at police and stormed a court building after marching through the main streets of the town.

A petition was read out calling for the government to carry out an inquiry into the killing and punish those responsible.

Demonstrations were also held elsewhere in the region, closing down banks, offices and shops.

The singer's sister Malicka told journalists that she would never forgive his killers.

Berber activists said the death of Matoub coincided with government moves to make Arabic the official language of Algeria.

A controversial law making Arabic the only language to be used in official documents and other areas of public life came into law in July last year.

The law is fiercely opposed by the Berber-speaking minority who want their language given equal status with Arabic.

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