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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Algeria's Berbers call strike
Berber activists in the Kabylie region of Algeria have called a five-day general strike as part of their boycott of the parliamentary election.

Police reportedly used tear gas in two of Kabylie's cities on Monday as demonstrators burnt ballot boxes to demand better treatment for the Berber minority.

Algerian election
23 parties and 1,266 independent candidates are fighting for 389 seats
1991 election sparked civil war when the military regime rejected Islamist victory
1997 election marred by massive fraud allegations
A special election watchdog has been set up for this election

Despite recent moves by the Arabic-speaking majority to recognise their language, Tamazight, Berber grievances are still strong.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appears to have moved to calm tensions ahead of Thursday's polls by pardoning a group of students jailed on Monday for insulting him.

The 17 pro-Berber students had each been jailed for up to two years after throwing stones and jeering as he visited a university in Algiers earlier this month.

Algerian state TV announced briefly that a pardon had been granted just hours after the sentences were passed.

Strong support

The general strike called by the Berbers is due to begin on Tuesday.

Anger against the authorities in Kabylie is such that both the strike and the boycott call are likely to be well observed, the BBC's Heba Saleh reports from Algiers.

Activists are specifically demanding greater government accountability and the withdrawal of controversial gendarmerie brigades from Kabylie.

A crisis erupted in the region last year after a death in custody sparked riots in which at least 80 protesters were shot dead by the security forces.

The government has sent police reinforcements to Kabylie, where tear gas was used against thousands of protesters in the regional capital, Tizi Ouzou, on Monday.

Commentators say unrest among the Berbers, who are believed to make up nearly 20% of the population, tends to feed discontent with the government elsewhere.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Opposition RCD leader, Khalifa Mamaeri
"Millions in Kabylie don't understand a word of Arabic"
The BBC's Heba Saleh
"Demonstrators have again taken to the streets"
See also:

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18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
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