Algeria Tries to Block Berbers from Staging Algiers Protest
Algerian gendarmes on Tuesday blocked roads to the capital from Kabylie, the homeland of ethnic Berbers, in a bid to stymie an anti-government Berber march in Algiers timed to coincide with an international youth festival.
Gendarmes, who faced off against Berbers in 10 weeks of riots that broke out in April, began deploying in the town of Thenia on a main road leading to Algiers, where the World Festival of Youth and Students kicks off on Wednesday.
Witnesses said the gendarmerie had also set up road blocks further east at Naciria, blocking access from Tizi Ouzou, a main town in Kabylie -- where anti-government sentiment has been rife over issues of alleged police brutality, unemployment, overcrowding and cultural discrimination.
Other barricades east of the capital were erected in Ahl El Kseur and in Aomar, according to residents.
The gendarmerie -- the police wing of the army -- successfully prevented a similar Berber march in early July by using the same tactics.
Berbers have renewed vows to march Wednesday towards the office of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in defiance of an official ban.
The interior ministry issued the ban following a June 14 Berber-led march that drew a million people into the streets of Algiers and resulted in considerable looting.
Six people died and hundreds were injured.
Berbers have insisted their march this time will be peaceful. "There will be no repeat of June 14," a Berber leader said.
Berbers say if police prevent them from marching toward Bouteflika's office, they will hold a sit-in in front of a main stadium where the festival's opening ceremony is due to take place.
The Berbers are boycotting the festival, calling it a masquerade to improve the reputation of a repressive government.
Some 15,000 youth activists from 140 nations are expected to attend the festival -- a week-long gathering featuring music, dance and workshops exploring such themes as world peace, the struggle against racism, and globalization -- ALGIERS (AFP)
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