Police Ring Algiers to Foil Berber Protest
Hundreds of police deployed in Algiers Wednesday to pre-empt an ethnic Berber march to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's office, and blocked anti-government protesters from reaching the capital.
The Berbers vowed to defy an official ban and hold the anti-government march to coincide with an international youth festival due to kick off Wednesday night at Algiers' July 5 stadium.
It is the second time that Berbers 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.
Dozens of buses and other vehicles carrying protesters from Kabylie were blocked by gendarmes manning barricades on roads leading to Algiers, Berbers said.
Main roads and small streets leading to the July 5 stadium, where the march was due to begin, and to Bouteflika's office were also blocked and surrounded by hundreds of police officers, backed up by riot police.
The deployment created enormous traffic jams.
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 resulted in considerable looting.
Six people died and hundreds were injured.
Berbers meanwhile have called for a boycott of the youth festival, saying the event is a masquerade aimed at improving the government's image.
Some 15,000 youth activists from 140 nations are expected to attend the week-long World Festival of Youth and Students which features music, dance and workshops exploring such themes as world peace, the struggle against racism, and globalization -- ALGIERS (AFP)
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