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The BBC's David Bamford reports
"The paramilitary gendarmes kept a low profile despite taunts"
 real 28k

Monday, 25 June, 2001, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Berbers mark death of protest singer
Riot police clash with protesters in central Algiers
The authorities fear clashes like those in recent weeks
By North African correspondent David Bamford

About 20,000 Berber-speaking people from the troubled region of Kabyliain north-eastern Algeria came together on Monday for a protest march to mark the third anniversary of the murder of Berber musician Lounes Matoub.

The march is taking place under the political backdrop of two months of violent clashes led by the Berber speaking community, which is angry about police brutality and government suppression.

Algeria map
In death Lounes Matoub, one of Algeria's best known Berber singers, has become even more of an icon for the Berber cultural movement than he was in life.

Both sides made efforts to ensure this rally did not go the way of other recent demonstrations in Tizi Ouzou and break out into violence.

Organisers appealed on loudspeakers for the march to remain peaceful, and for their part, the paramilitary gendarmes kept a low profile despite taunts by hundreds of youths wearing headbands and black Berber crosses.

Some of the marchers have painted their faces with black Berber crosses, while others hold aloft large photographs of Lounes Matoub,

The authorities are nervous the march to commemorate his death will spark a new wave of unrest in the Kabylia region, in which at least 80 people are reported to have been killed since April.

Throughout Sunday, one day ahead of the march, loudspeakers in the main Berber town of Tizi Ouzou played Mr Matoub's songs at full volume.

In them he lampooned both the military-backed government and the Islamist movement.

Assassination

Mr Matoub was assassinated at a mountain roadblock near Tizi Ouzou in June 1998.

His killers have never been bought to justice, but his friends think it no coincidence that the murder took place a few days before the government passed a new law, making Arabic the country's only legal language.

A move which Mr Matoub and other Berber speakers vehemently opposed.

The authorities are alarmed at the current anti-government protests, which have now spread beyond the Berbers into the wider Arab community.

But so far they are showing no sign of being able to quell the general popular resentment.

Besides making vague reference to holding discussions over social grievances, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appears to have done very little to tackle the continuing unrest but observers say it threatens the very existence of his civilian government.

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See also:

19 Jun 01 | Middle East
Rising tide of Berber unrest
20 Jun 01 | Middle East
Algerian leader unmoved by protests
14 Jun 01 | Middle East
Heavy casualties in Algiers clashes
03 May 01 | Middle East
Police crack down on Berber rally
01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers quit Algeria government
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
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