Algerian President, Parliament Want Talks on Riots as More Die
Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the country's Parliament moved Wednesday towards talks to find ways to settle mounting civil unrest, while violent riots claimed at least 10 more lives.
Bouteflika, touring the deep Saharan south, told a rally that "the time has come to say that we're ready for a serene and responsible dialogue in a serene and responsible climate, once things have calmed down."
His army-backed regime took a tough line on anti-government protests which began two months ago in the northeastern Kabylie region, where six police and paramilitary police officers were reported killed on Tuesday.
Four demonstrators also died in Kabylie and other parts of east Algeria on Tuesday, newspapers said. They included a 13-year-old boy killed at Ain Mlila, 550 kilometers (33O miles) southeast of Algiers.
In all, up to 100 people have lost their lives and thousands have been injured in protests that begun among the ethnic Berber people after a youth was shot dead in police custody on April 18, according to the independent press.
Bouteflika said Wednesday that "Algeria is Kabylie and Kabylie is Algeria" in response to demands by Berbers, who make up about a third of the population and resent Arabic dominance, for greater autonomy.
Speaking in Illizi, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from the coastal capital, the president also addressed Berber demands for recognition of their Amazighe language.
"Solutions exist and neither the constitution nor the laws of the republic are sacred," he said.
Bouteflika has made few public statements since the unrest began, after initially promising an inquiry and then vowing to crack down hard on the troublemakers.
On Tuesday, however, he told a rally in the southern town of Tamanrasset that "Algeria is in crisis," but said he was willing to start talks to find a peaceful solution.
"I am not a captain who abandons a sinking ship -- I am here, I am staying, in line with the will of the people who elected me," he said, referring to a 1999 presidential poll which was boycotted by the other candidates.
The opposition, particularly in the shape of the leader of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), Hocine Ait Ahmed, who has been living in Switzerland for medical treatment, charges that Algerian regimes are made and broken by a handful of generals.
In Algiers, the National Assembly voted Wednesday to hold a "general debate on the social conditions the people live in and the events, which have taken place in some wilayas (administrative departments)".
Parliamentary speaker Abdelkader Bensalah said the date for the session would be decided on after consultations with the government, which last month saw a slight reshuffle aimed at reviving a poor economy, but keeping hard-liners.
While the protests began in Berber territory, anti-government feeling over unemployment, corruption and increasing poverty has led to widespread unrest and attacks on public buildings in other parts of Algeria.
Last week, a march gathered about a million people in Algiers and led to riots in which four people died and 946 injured, according to the government, which on Monday banned any further rallies in the capital. The ban opened the way for troops to be used against protesters.
Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni told parliament Wednesday that "the president of the republic and the government call, without reservation, for talks on the problems facing the country, particularly the current situation."
The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), one of the main Berber parties, last month quit the ruling coalition in protest at the handling of the unrest by riot police using live ammunition against youths hurling stones.
In parallel with the social unrest, an armed gang on Tuesday gunned down Supreme Court judge Abdelhamid Hedda as he tried to force a roadblock in the northeastern Batna region, an official source said Wednesday.
Islamic extremists have been waging a guerrilla war since the January 1992 cancellation of a general election a fundamentalist party was poised to win. This conflict has cost at least 100,000 lives.
They have a practice of setting up false checkpoints resembling those of the security forces – ALGIERS (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)