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Algerians Mark Berber Protests

April 21, 2002

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TIZI OUZOU, Algeria (AP) _ At least 100,000 Algerians in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou converged for a peaceful demonstration to mark the first anniversay of a government crackdown on protests by ethnic minority Berbers, in which 60 people were killed.

Businesses and offices were closed in Tizi Ouzou, the largest city in the northern Berber region of Kabyle. Marchers also called for the boycott of legislative elections on May 30.

The protest ended without arrests or injuries, although security forces sprayed tear gas after several dozen youths hurled stones at a police station.

A similar demonstration drew several thousand people in Kabyle’s second-largest city of Bejaia, about 160 miles east of Algiers. Protesters demanded the release of about 200 people who had been arrested last month during a renewed outbreak of violence.

Kabyle village committees _ a driving force behind the protests _ called for Saturday’s action to mark the one-year anniversary of ``Black Spring,″ an uprising sparked by the death an ethnic Berber youth while in police custody on April 18, 2001.

Police said the youth died after an officer’s gun went off accidentally, but that version was roundly contested by the Berber population. His death touched off massive riots in Kabyle last spring.

A government report in July 2001 criticized Algerian security forces for shooting live ammunition into crowds and beating people during the massive riots.

Protests regained intensity last month after a speech by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika disappointed the Berber community. While Bouteflika promised that the Berber language, Tamazight, would be recognized in the nation’s constitution, he ruled out another demand _ the departure of security forces from Kabyle.

Berbers claim to be the original inhabitants of Muslim North Africa and have had strained relations with Algerian authorities for decades.

The Berber protests are not directly related to an Islamic insurgency raging in Algeria since 1992. That uprising began after the army canceled elections that a fundamentalist party appeared set to win. More than 120,000 people have been killed since then.

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