Heavy Clashes in Algeria Kabylie Region
Scores of protesters have been injured, at least two seriously, in clashes between ethnic Berber demonstrators and riot police in the Kabylie region of Algeria.
According to news agencies, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets on the rioters, who had gathered on Thursday to protest against the way police have dealt with recent unrest in the region.
Officials said one of the demonstrators hurt in similar clashes on Wednesday has now died from his wounds. Three people have now been killed since unrest broke out in the region two weeks ago.
The violence on Thursday erupted during a protest march in Kabylie's main town, Tizi Ouzou, and was organized by local Berber community leaders.
The demonstration was called in protest at the police occupation of the Berber headquarters in a Tizi Ouzou theatre since Monday. Residents said police stormed the theatre and arrested 18 activists. "Nearly 100 policemen are occupying the theatre and their presence is fuelling anger of the people," said an activist who do not want to be named.
The activists amassed on the outskirts of the town, and erected barricades to stop police from charging at them when they marched on the city center, witnesses said.
Town authorities had banned the rally and set up road blocks to try to prevent protesters from nearby villages reaching Tizi-Ouzou, a town about 100 kilometers east of the country's capital Algiers.
Violence broke out at a road junction near the former base of the paramilitary police - which has recently been replaced by the ordinary police force. One man, named as Rabah Hamdi, sustained a serious head wound from a teargas grenade, and a doctor said he was "pessimistic" about his condition.
At least 28 people have been arrested in recent days on charges of riot incitement, damage of state property and arson, police said.
Four other activists were arrested in Bejaia, Kabylie's second city about 250 kilometers east of Algiers, after they organized a sit-in on Monday outside the main court. They were calling for the release of militants detained earlier in similar protests, leaders from a grassroots network of activists known as the Coordination of Berber Towns and Tribes said.
Elsewhere in Bejaia province, stone-throwing protesters clashed with riot police, who fired tear gas, they said. Algerian state-run radio said the detained activists would stand trial on the charge of "disrupting public order".
Mostly, ethnic Berbers inhabits Kabylie. Berbers make up about one fifth of the country's 31 million population, and have long sought official recognition of their language and culture, as well as economic and social benefits. Berbers claim to be the initial inhabitants of Muslim North Africa, and they have long had a strained relationship with Algerian authorities.
Protests in the region have intensified since Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika rejected calls from Berber groups earlier this month to withdraw security forces from the Kabylie region. Gendarme police units began pulling out of key towns in Kabylie on Monday, but Berbers demand a total withdrawal. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)