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Algeria: Ethnic Berbers have rebuffed concessions
Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2001

ABSTRACT BBC: - Ethnic Berbers have rebuffed a series of concessions offered by the Algerian Government, including recognition of their language, and have vowed to press ahead with a mass rally.

Berber leaders from the Kabylie region say the offer falls short of their demands, and that the government is trying to engineer a split in their long-running campaign for official recognition and justice.

President Abdelaiz Bouteflika, who has portrayed the concessions as ground-breaking, hoped the offer would persuade the community to call off their demonstration on Friday.

Previous demonstrations of this kind have attracted hundreds of thousands of people. In June a protest which included many non-Berbers degenerated into rioting.

The Berbers' dissatisfaction with the offer is reportedly based on the exact wording of the text.

They want their language - Tamazight - to be classified as an official language of the state, giving it equal status with the majority language of Arabic.

But they say the government is offering to make amendments to the constitution which would merely recognize the Berber language as a national language of Algeria.

The Berbers are also suspicious about the wording of additional government offers over legal procedures against police suspected of killing Berber civilians.

Algerian paramilitary police are accused of shooting dead some 60 Berbers during the recent unrest.

An official inquiry has already judged that the deaths were a result of police over-reaction to peaceful protests.

Concessions to the Berbers have been strongly opposed by powerful circles in the majority Arab community, in particular the military, as well as by the Islamist movement.

Since independence from France in 1962, the majority Arab community has maintained that Arabic must be the sole language to be recognised by the state.

That has always been regarded as an affront by the Berbers, who claim to represent over a quarter of the population and say their culture and language are distinct.

These people call themselves Amazigh. "Berber is a name that has been given them by others and which they themselves do not use. Amazigh history in North Africa is extensive and diverse. Their ancient ancestors settled in the area just inland of the Medeterranean Sea to the east of Egypt. Many early Roman, Greek, and Phoenician colonial accounts mention a group of people collectively known as Berbers living in northern Africa. In actuality, Berber is a generic name given to numerous heterogeneous ethnic groups that share similar cultural, political, and economic practices. Over the last several hundred years many Berber peoples have converted to Islam.

Contrary to popular romanticism which portrays Amazigh as nomadic peoples crossing the desert on camels, most actually practice sedentary agriculture in the mountains and valleys throughout northern Africa. Some do, in fact, engage in trade throughout the region, and such practices certainly had a tremendous influence on the history of the African continent. Trade routes established from western Africa to the Mediterranean connected the peoples of southern Europe with much of sub-Saharan Africa thousands of years ago. There are basically five trade routes which extend across the Sahara from the northern Mediterranean coast of Africa to the great cities, which are situated on the southern edge of the Sahara. Berber merchants were responsible for bringing goods from these cities to the north. From there they were distributed throughout the world.

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