Algerian PM offers Berbers olive branch

Algeria's government called for peace with the country's Berber minority on Saturday after a two-year period of poor relations, at times violent.

    Ouyahia: Crisis too long and painful

    Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, himself a Berber, made the offer for tribal leaders to negotiate an end to the violence that has affected the eastern region of Kabylie for years.
       
    "The crisis has gone on for too long, and its consequences have been painful ...this is why I make another call to all those who hold good intentions in our country to encourage and support this dialogue," said Ouyahia, addressing the parliament.

    "I express my sincere hope that this call will be heeded," he said, adding that he had the president's backing.
     
    Flashpoint

    Alleged discrimination against the Berber people has been a long-standing cause for tensions with Algiers for years, but relations nose-dived two years ago.
       
    In April 2001, a Berber schoolboy died in police custody. It sparked clashes between police and Berber protesters, leading to riots that lasted several months and caused more than 100 deaths.
       
    The ethnic Berber minority represents one-fifth of the North African nation's 32 million population.

    2001's riots brought over one
    hundred deaths, the government
    may now pay compensation

    Campaigning for more cultural rights, security forces have expressed concern that Berbers could disrupt the elections next April to gain publicity for their cause.

    Re-election

    President Abd el-Aziz Bouteflika, who is expected to run for re-election, already faces a long list of problems.

    The aftermath of an earthquake that killed 2,300 people, high unemployment and fierce resistance by trade unions to his social and economic reform programme are all highly contentious issues.
           
    "With the unexpected experience of the quake and its human and economic consequences, it's clear authorities no longer intend to deal with the problem from a distance," said the Algerianl newspaper, Le Quotidien d'Oran.

    Last year the government officially recognised the Berber language Tamazight and is working on a compensation plan for the families of victims who died in clashes with security forces.


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