Syrian President’s Visit to Algeria Put off as the Country Strives to End Ethnic Violence
A visit due Tuesday to Algiers by Syrian President Bashar Assad has been postponed to the second half of May against the backdrop of the bloody violence striking the country’s Berber areas.
According to the London-based Ashaq Alawsat Arabic daily, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who promised a probe into the riots, has talked with Assad and both agreed on the last-minute postponement.
Sources told the daily that the decision had another dimension. They claimed that the visit, on which the African country pinned many hopes, would add to the deteriorating situations since the Berbers and pro-Syrian Baathists in the country are standing in opposite trenches.
Syrian Baath philosophy is based on promoting the Arab identity and culture, while the ethnic Berbers are fighting for their identity and language, rejecting all Arabization efforts.
The Berbers, who make up about a third of the population, have long opposed Algeria's military-backed government and want their language to have an equal status with Arabic.
The sources said that the “historical conflict between the pan-Arabists and the Berbers is enough “to make the young Berbers more furious over the visit of Assad,” at a time when the country is trying to cool down the surging violence.
In a televised speech on Monday, President Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika broke his silence over rioting by the country's ethnic minority, promising a commission of inquiry in a bid to calm the unrest that has left up to 80 people dead, according to a report by AFP.
In the address, however, he accused unnamed groups “inside and outside the country of inciting terrorism,” said BBC.online.
Reports differed on the number of the dead. While official estimates puts it at 50, according to BBC, agencies say the bloodshed has seen 60-80 killed so far in nearly two weeks of riots in Kabylie. The violence was sparked on April 18 by the death in a police cell of a Berber youth and the manhandling of three teenagers for shouting anti-government slogans at police.
Bouteflika pledged an inquiry by "representatives of civil society to throw light on what has happened,” said AFP.
He asserted the inquiry would be "totally free and transparent.”
The situation was said to have largely returned to uneasy calm Monday after a weekend of serious clashes with riot police. However, more people were reportedly injured when clashes were renewed in the area during the day.
"The serious events and their dramatic consequences should prompt us to distance ourselves from the path of violence and toward that of dialogue and tolerance," Bouteflika said.
"These events should lead us to seek a satisfactory solution to our problems, the complexity of which everyone is aware.”
He said the inquiry would have no effect on ongoing judicial probes into the violence.
Initial reactions to Bouteflika's address from residents of the Kabylie town of Bejaia were marked by disappointment, according to AFP.
"No commission of inquiry has ever succeeded in Algeria, that is not what will produce results," commented one resident who requested not to be named.
"He didn't say anything," another resident told the agency – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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