Algerian President Vows Punishment for Riots
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Sunday pledged harsh punishment for those involved in riots in the restive Berber Kabylie region, reported Reuters.
But Bouteflika ignored the Berber protesters' main demand that he pull paramilitary gendarmes out of the Berber-speaking region, convulsed by almost daily clashes since the death of a teenager in custody at a gendarmerie barracks on April 18.
"Severe penalties are inevitable, penalties which are clear and proportionate with the transgressions from whatever quarter they have come," Bouteflika said in a speech broadcast by state media.
The government has admitted security forces have shot dead 51 protesters and wounded 280 others since the clashes broke out. Independent newspapers say up to 80 rioters have died.
Protesters blame the gendarmes for widespread corruption as well as the killings. More than half a million people took to the streets of Tizi Ouzou, the main Berber city, last week to demand their withdrawal.
A similar massive street protest is planned in Algiers on Thursday, said Reuters.
Bouteflika said punishments would be decided when an inquiry commission he set up early this month completed its findings.
"(The commission report) will be published in detail so that all judicial and legal measures can be taken against those who ignited the fire of sedition and kindled the ember of division," Bouteflika said.
Independent newspapers and opposition parties criticized the commission as a delaying tactic that would worsen the situation in civil strife-torn Algeria.
According to the agency, many Algerians believe army generals stirred the riots to divert attention from infighting within the country's military leadership and accusations of human rights abuses.
Bouteflika left many questions unanswered, including whether the government was considering putting the region under direct military rule, according to the agency.
Analysts said on Sunday the gendarme withdrawal demand had presented Bouteflika with a dilemma.
If he orders the pullout, the mountainous Kabylie will be left open for guerrilla infiltration. If he waits, hoping the unrest will lose momentum, he risks hardening the so far peaceful opposition.
"Withdrawing the gendarmes from Kabylie means that there will be no state presence there and that possibility would throw the region into chaos that will only benefit (rebel) guerrillas and the mafia," analyst Mounir Boujemaa told Reuters.
On Sunday, clashes flared in Algeria at the end of an anti-government march by tens of thousands of people from the country's ethnic Berber community, said the BBC.online.
As the march in the north-eastern city of Bejaia, came to an end, militant youths began attacking business premises, regarded as symbolizing the Algerian state, reported the BBC.
Riot police fired tear gas to try to disperse them – Albawaba.com
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