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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 21:31 GMT 22:31 UK
Algeria shuts out Berber protesters
Riot police clash with protesters in central Algiers
The authorities want to avoid further clashes
The Algerian authorities have prevented thousands of Berber-speaking protesters from holding a planned protest march through the capital Algiers.

Soldiers wielding machine guns and aided by police dogs set up road-blocks around the capital Algiers and turned back buses coming from the mainly-Berber eastern region of Kabylia to prevent a planned march by on Thursday.

The Berbers had been planning to march to the presidential palace to present a list of demands, but the government has banned all marches in the capital.

Algeria map
The authorities were alarmed by an earlier demonstration in mid-June in which nearly a million protesters crowded onto the streets of the capital.

According to the BBC's North Africa correspondent, David Bamford, the march appeared to have turned into had turned to be turning into a test of strength with the government.

List of demands

Around 5,000 demonstrators - each of them specially chosen to represent the communities of the region - are expected to turn out to present the list of demands to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

These included a programme to revive the economy of the region and the withdrawal of the gendarmerie - a force seen as corrupt and repressive.

Berbers
Descendants of pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa
Spread across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt
Divided into tribes that speak distinct languages, including Rif, Kabyle and Tuareg
Nearly all are Muslims
Kabylia Berbers number about 2m - most work in agriculture
Played major role in Algerian independence war
Denied official recognition as distinct minority in Algeria

The Prime Minister, Ali Benflis, has said he is prepared to meet a small delegation, but no more.

The size of the turnout at the June march - and the fact that it turned violent - clearly unnerved the authorities, and they are saying that the total ban remains in force.

The Berbers insist the authorities planted infiltrators during that protest to provoke fighting and looting and turn the rest of the country against them.

The protests stem from a continuing wave of unrest that began last April, when a Berber youth was killed by police.

About 80 people have been killed since then as protesters continue to demand an improvement in living conditions and the withdrawal from Kabylia of the hated paramilitary police.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Algeria specialist Heba Saleh
"The Government may be forced to take action"
The BBC's David Bamford
"It has spread beyond the Berber community to the wider Arab community"
See also:

25 Jun 01 | Middle East
Berbers mark death of protest singer
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
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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