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Friday, 5 October, 2001, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Police turn back Berber protesters
Demonstrators hurl stones at a police truck
In June a demonstration degenerated into rioting
Riot police in Algeria have blocked access roads to the capital, Algiers, after the authorities banned an ethnic Berber protest.

The Berbers have rebuffed a series of concessions offered by the Algerian Government, including recognition of their language, and have vowed to press ahead with the mass rally.


President Bouteflika has decided to grant the Berber Tamazight language the status of a national language in a forthcoming constitutional amendment

Government statement
Berber leaders from the Kabylie region said the offer fell short of their demands, and that the government was trying to engineer a split in their long-running campaign for official recognition and justice.

They did say, however, that they would limit Friday's demonstration to a token 5,000 participants. Another march is planned for November.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has portrayed the concessions as ground-breaking, had hoped the offer would persuade the community to call off the protest.

Previous demonstrations of this kind have attracted hundreds of thousands of people. In June a protest which included many non-Berbers degenerated into rioting.

The BBC's David Bamford says Friday is a particularly sensitive anniversary in Algiers, exactly 13 years after the start of the bread riots that brought down the former one-party political system.

Wording

The Berbers' dissatisfaction with the offer is reportedly based on the exact wording of the text.

They want their language - Tamazight - to be classified as an official language of the state, giving it equal status with the majority language of Arabic.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Bouteflika said the offer was ground-breaking
But they say the government is offering to make amendments to the constitution which would merely recognize the Berber language as a national language of Algeria.

The Berbers are also suspicious about the wording of additional government offers over legal procedures against police suspected of killing Berber civilians.

Algerian paramilitary police are accused of shooting dead some 60 Berbers during the recent unrest.

An official inquiry has already judged that the deaths were a result of police over-reaction to peaceful protests.

Concessions to the Berbers have been strongly opposed by powerful circles in the majority Arab community, in particular the military, as well as by the Islamist movement.

Since independence from France in 1962, the majority Arab community has maintained that Arabic must be the sole language to be recognised by the state.

That has always been regarded as an affront by the Berbers, who claim to represent over a quarter of the population and say their culture and language are distinct.


algerian timeline puffobx
See also:

24 Sep 01 | Middle East
Algeria hears Berber demands
20 Aug 01 | Middle East
Berbers march for their rights
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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