At least 15 Dead as Fresh Rioting Sweeps Northeastern Algeria
At least 15 people have died in two days of fierce rioting over alleged police brutality in Algeria's troubled northeastern Kabylie region, government officials and witnesses said Friday.
Sources in the mainly ethnic-Berber region said nine people died on Friday and six on Thursday, bringing the toll from the unrest, now in its sixth day, to at least 20 dead.
Algeria's interior ministry late Friday confirmed that 15 people had died over the past two days.
"Unfortunate incidents these past two days have led to the death of 15 people," the ministry said in a statement, adding that 52 civilians and 284 members of the security forces had also been wounded.
The violence was triggered after a teenager in police custody was shot dead on Sunday, and three other youths were manhandled for shouting anti-government slogans at police.
The ministry statement quoted Interior Minister Yazizd Zerhouni as saying that "in all the cases resulting in loss of human life, the members of the security services were cornered and forced to preserve the safety of people and property faced with demonstrators who were out of control."
Zerhouni "repeats the state's commitment to punish severely those who go over the top" and "renews his appeal for calm and serenity," said the statement.
The unrest coincided with the 21st anniversary of the "Berber Spring" of 1980 when authorities cracked down on demonstrations in Kabylie demanding formal recognition of the Berber language and culture.
The Berbers of Kabylie were in the forefront of Algeria's liberation struggle against France, but a divide-and-rule policy continued after independence in 1962, heightening antagonism between Arabs and Berbers.
Residents said latent tension in the area typically heightened with celebrations of the Berber Spring anniversary.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators called on authorities to put the Berber language Tamazight on a par with Arabic, the country's official language that is little spoken in Kabylie.
People in the mountainous region, one of the country's poorest and most populous, complain of a lack of government assistance and say they survive on remittances from relatives who have emigrated to France.
Friday's incidents mainly took place in Bejaia, some 250 kilometers (150 miles) east of Algiers, according to an AFP journalist in the area and witnesses reached by phone.
Witnesses said youths in Bejaia erected road blocks on a major highway leading to the capital, and had torched several trucks.
The unrest spilled over into surrounding villages, where roads were also blocked.
Rioting youths have denounced what they called the "hogra" of security forces, meaning contempt and injustice in their local Berber language.
The youths also denounced chronic unemployment in the overpopulated region, and alleged that social housing was being unfairly allocated to "people who were corrupting the administration."
In Tazmalt, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) west of Bejaia, youths blocked traffic along a main road to Algiers, confronting gendarmes – ALGIERS (AFP)
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