Police Crackdown Ends Berber Protest in Algeria
About 100 ethnic Berbers trying to stage an anti-government protest in Algiers Wednesday were dispersed by police, while thousands of others trying to reach the Algerian capital were blocked by the security forces, witnesses said.
In the only reported incident, 15 Berbers were slightly injured when they clashed with gendarmes at a barricade erected at Naciria, in the Berber homeland of Kabylie.
The gendarmes fired tear gas when angry Berber youths tried to push their way through the barricade, a Berber leader said.
The Berbers had vowed to defy an official ban and hold a march coinciding with an international youth festival due to kick off Wednesday night at Algiers' July 5 stadium.
But police deployed massively in Algiers and security forces manned barricades on highways leading to the city to pre-empt the march, from the stadium to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's office.
About a dozen Berber youths who tried to reach the stadium in the morning were taken into custody for questioning, witnesses said.
In the afternoon, about 100 protestors tried to stage a sit-in protest near the stadium, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, but were quickly dispersed by police, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The incident at Naciria, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of the capital and between the towns of Tizi Ouzou and Thenia in Kabylie, came after buses and other vehicles had been stopped at the barricade.
"The anger was over gendarmes who refused to let them through," said the Berber leader.
"Under terrible heat, youths wanted to get through (the barricade), and gendarmes responded by firing tear gas," he said, adding that protesters had been urged by their leadership to remain calm.
Protesters who left their homes in Bejaia were also stopped at a barricade at El Esnam, 130 kilometres (80 miles) away, witnesses said.
In the capital itself, hundreds of police officers backed by riot police were deployed around the July 5 stadium and near Bouteflika's office, while roads to the locations were blocked.
The deployment created enormous traffic jams in the heart of the city.
Some 15,000 youth activists from 140 nations were expected to attend the week-long World Festival of Youth and Students which features music, dance and workshops exploring themes such as world peace, the struggle against racism, and globalization.
The Berbers are boycotting the festival, calling it a masquerade to improve the reputation of a repressive government.
It is the second time they have tried to defy a government ban against protests in Algiers since unleashing a wave of riots in April over alleged police brutality, unemployment, overcrowding and cultural discrimination in their homeland region of Kabylie.
The gendarmerie -- the police wing of the army -- successfully prevented a similar Berber march on July 5, using machineguns and police dogs and systematically searching buses heading for Algiers.
The interior ministry issued the ban following a June 14 Berber-led march that drew a million people into the streets of Algiers and led to considerable looting.
Six people died and hundreds were injured.
Police used automatic weapons against youths in more than two months of Kabylie riots that left at least 80 people dead and 2,000 injured.
A government probe accused the paramilitary police of using gratuitous violence against the protesters -- ALGIERS (AFP)
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