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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Berbers march for their rights
Demonstrators in Bejaia, north-eastern Algeria
Bejaia has often been the focus of previous marches
By North Africa correspondent David Bamford

Tens of thousands of demonstrators from the Berber-speaking region of Kabylie have marched into the Soummam Valley, close to the town of Bejaia.

The march was called by Berber leaders to further press their demands for cultural recognition and social justice in the wake of four months of clashes with security forces in which 60 civilians have been killed and thousands injured.


The Berber march into the Soummam Valley, 300 kilometres (190 miles) east of Algiers, has been another show of strength to the authorities that Berber agitation will not go away.

Organisers of the march called for a peaceful protest and though there are no reports of unrest, Berber elders are wary because youths have often taken it upon themselves to initiate confrontation with the police once formal protests are over.

Crossroads

Appeals for calm have not been much helped by the recent tour of Kabylie by the hardline Interior Minister, Yazid Zerhouni, who continues to accuse extreme leftists and foreign agents of being behind the unrest.

Algerian riot police
Riot police have stopped previous marches from reaching Algiers

This is despite the publication of a preliminary report under the auspices of President Bouteflika into the causes of the violence which firmly blames the military police for over-reacting during the early protests.

Mr Bouteflika is at a crossroads right now in which he has to decide whether to open a dialogue with both the Berbers and the moderate Islamist movement to secure some social stability or to maintain a hard line against further political accommodation.

Many believe his hands are already tied by conservative minds inside the military and civilian establishment, who believe any concessions now would be a sign of weakness.

The date of 20 August is a key one in the history of the Algerian independence struggle.

Played down

It was on that day in 1956 that the National Liberation Front, the FLN, held a secret congress that set the framework for the next six years of civil war and subsequent military victory against the French.

The congress was held in the Soummam valley, close to Bejaia.

And its choice of location reflected the leading role played by the Berbers in the independence war, a role they argue which has been consistently played down by the country's majority Arab community.


algerian timeline puffobx
See also:

13 Aug 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Can the Berber revolt survive?
08 Aug 01 | Middle East
Police move to block Berber march
19 Jun 01 | Middle East
Rising tide of Berber unrest
01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers battle for recognition
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
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