Two Reporters Die in Algeria

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                 [Algerian police uses water cannons
                  to disperse protesting Berber Youth
                  in Algiers,the capital;Jun,14,2001.
                  Read photo caption below] 

Two Reporters Die in Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) - Police fired water cannons and tear gas at rioters Thursday as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on Algeria's presidential palace demanding greater democracy and denouncing unrest. Two people died and more than 400 were injured in the turmoil.

Ethnic Berbers organized the mass protest against discrimination, and it was joined by opposition parties demanding greater freedom, presenting Algeria's military-backed government with a growing challenge even as it battles the separate threat of an Islamic insurgency.

Demonstrators threw stones at riot police blocking their path to the palace, and the security forces fired a truck-mounted water cannon and volleys of tear gas. Other rioters, some carrying knives, hatchets or iron bars, smashed building facades - including the glass front of the Sofitel, the most luxurious hotel in Algiers.

The line of demonstrators stretched down a main highway into the city, chanting and carrying banners reading, ``You can't kill us we are already dead'' or denouncing the ``hogra,'' a word used to refer to injustice and abuse of power. Many had painted their faces with a cross-like symbol used by Berber nationalists on flags.

Hospital officials said that between 400 and 500 people were injured in the demonstration. The two dead were journalists - a woman with the Arab-language weekly El Chourouk and the other a man - who were hit by a bus fleeing a depot that had been set on fire, government official Mohamed Guendil said on television.

The Berbers, who claim to be the original inhabitants of North Africa, have had tense relations with Algiers for decades as they press their demand for official recognition of the Berber language, Tamazight, and an end to what they say is government discrimination against them.

At least 52 people have been killed during 40 days of rioting in the mountainous Berber region of Kabyle, which begins about 60 miles east of Algiers. The riots were triggered by the April 18 death of a Berber teen-ager in a Kabyle police station.

Since then, there have been numerous demonstrations in Kabyle and in Algiers, with at least 200,000 people marching through the capital on May 31. The Berber protest quickly broadened to take in the masses of discontented citizens in this nation rich in natural gas but marked by corruption and soaring unemployment.

This week, rioting spread to the Aures region further east. Newspapers said 24 people were injured Wednesday, some by police gunfire, in Ain Fekroun, in the Aures region, 330 miles east of Algiers.

The violence was the latest outbreak in this North African nation, which has been battling an Islamic insurgency for nine years. More than 100,000 people have been killed since the start of the insurgency in 1992. The insurgency is not directly related to the recent riots.

In the capital Thursday, sporadic rioting continued along the main roads for hours after the march ended, and streets were strewn with broken lampposts. Columns of smoke from fires and tear gas wafted into the sky.

There was no official estimate of the number of marchers, but informal estimates reached about half a million. Organizers of the demonstration defied government orders to keep the march between two main squares. Instead, protesters set off from the outskirts of the capital to march to the presidential offices.

``We have come here to express our pain and the fact we've had enough. We want to express our solidarity with our brothers and friends in Kabyle and the whole population which is living under the dictatorship of the old power,'' one protester told Associated Press Television News, refusing to identify himself.

Ahead of the demonstration, authorities had closed down the 34th Algiers Fair, the march starting point. The fair draws hundreds of businesses from abroad.

On Friday, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika referred to a ``foreign plot'' to explain the growing violence. Bouteflika has ordered an investigation into the deaths in Kabyle but his action has failed to soothe tempers.

Algerian riot police use a water canon to disperse youths from Algeria's Berber-speaking Kabylie region during violent clashes at a demonstration in Algiers, June 14, 2001. Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Algiers for a "March for Democracy" anti-government demonstration in which two journalists were killed by youths driving a stolen bus and some 400 demonstrators were injured in clashes. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
- Jun 14 4:31 PM ET

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