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The BBC's Heba Saleh
"Local people have long resented the gendarmes"
 real 28k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 17:52 GMT 18:52 UK
Berbers protest in Kabylia
Algeria map showing town of Tizi Ouzou in Kabylia
More than half a million people have marched through the streets of Tizi Ouzou, the capital of the Berber-speaking Kabylia region in Algeria.

The demonstrators were demanding the withdrawal from the region of the gendarmerie - the force responsible for law and order in the countryside.

The killing of a young man in their custody sparked off 10 days of rioting in late April and early May.

More than 60 people were killed by the security forces during the riots.

The BBC's Heba Saleh says the Berbers' march was the largest street protest in Algeria for almost 10 years.

Calls for justice

The protesters came down from Kabylian towns and mountain villages at the invitation of traditional leaders, who began re-asserting their authority during last months' violent riots, our correspondent says.


The authorities are assassins... the security forces are terrorists... the people of Kabylia are martyrs

Protesters
For three hours, the demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans, including: "The authorities are assassins", "the security forces are terrorists", and "the people of Kabylia are martyrs".

They marched from Hasnaoua University to the local government headquarters, holding placards with pictures of young people killed during the riots, and wearing black arm- and head- bands in mourning.

The marchers called for those responsible for the deaths to be brought to justice.

There was also a general strike in the town, with businesses, government offices and market stalls closed for the day.

Resentment

Local people in Kabylia have long resented the gendarmes, whom they accuse of abusing their authority, taking goods from shops without paying, and extorting money from small businessmen.

So far, the authorities have made no comments on the demand for the withdrawal of the gendarmerie, although they have promised a fair and transparent investigation into the riots.

The promise, however, has been met by scepticism in Kabylia where the situation remains tense.

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See also:

21 May 01 | Middle East
More Berber unrest in Algeria
03 May 01 | Middle East
Police crack down on Berber rally
01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers quit Algeria government
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
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