- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Arab governments have been alarmed by intelligence reports predicting a secession of Algerias predominantly Berber regions long rocked by rioting and government repression.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appears unable to produce a formula to satisfy the Berber clamor for autonomy in that North African country, say Middle Eastern sources.
His ability to grant concessions appears limited by the army, the real power behind the present coalition government.
Middle Eastern capitals fear a chain reaction in other Arab countries with populations divided by linguistic and cultural differences if Algerias Berber regions succeed in their quest for autonomy or independence.
Although precarious calm has returned to Algerias Berber regions east of the capital, Algiers, tensions and potential unrest have remained, with slogans demanding "Democracy and human rights," "Freedom of expression" and "Berbes as official national language."
The free-wheeling Algerian press has described Mr. Bouteflikas careful reaction in exceptionally harsh terms. He has been called "an assassin," "a lonely dictator" and "the monarch anointed by God."
The rioting by Berbers demanding official recognition of their ethnic aspirations has claimed some 100 lives and left hundreds of wounded, including 388 policemen and members of the paramilitary gendarmerie.
The government has promised to ban the use of gunfire by security forces in further demonstrations.
A massive "national and peaceful march" has been scheduled for tomorrow in Algiers, under the slogan: "We are all on the march together. We shall conquer."
Organizers of the march intend to turn it into a demonstration against the privileges of the ruling class and in favor of "total dignity of the Algerian people."
During rioting in various towns of the Berber area known as Kabylie, the Algiers French language daily Le Matin reported that the gendarmes "fired at houses, looted shops and brutalized the injured," while members of the anti-riot police "broke into private apartments, shouted obscenities at women and threw tear-gas bombs into windows."
Among the towns most affected by the rioting were Tizi-Ouzou, some 60 miles east of Algiers; Bejaia, on the coast; and Bouira.
Most of Algerias Berbers, known there as Kabyles, are concentrated in the mountainous and heavily populated area known as Kabylie in the eastern part of the country.
During the 1954-62 war of independence, the region was the scene of some of the most stubborn guerrilla activity against the French army. Algeria was conquered by France in 1830 and during the war of independence was regarded as a part of France.
The Berbers — or Kabyles — were among the most fierce fighters, and their mountains were never secured by the French army.
Today the number of Berber-speaking Algerians is estimated at about 20 percent of the population of 30 million.

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