The talks collapsed over Berber demands for official recognition of their language Tamazight, sparking fears of a resurgence of tensions that would end a period of relative calm in the northeastern region of Algeria.
“We are going to resume protest actions in the streets in Kabylie and prevent the holding of the presidential election in April,” said a spokesman for the Berber leaders, Belaid Abrika on Sunday.
The Berbers, who make up about one-fifth of the population of some 31 million in the north African country, have long demanded an end to cultural and economic marginalisation.
Riots ravaged the regional capital Tizi Ouzou in 1980, while the current crisis in Kabylie started in April 2001 when the death of a teenager in police custody sparked months of rioting that left at least 118 people dead.
During local and parliamentary elections in May and October
2002, the Berber leaders – known as aarchs – also encouraged rioting, resulting in an extremely low turnout, with only a single-digit percentage participation in Kabylie.
The failure of the talks is set to cause concern in Algiers of a
similar development in this year’s presidential poll. President
Abd al-Aziz Boutaflika, widely expected to seek re-election, announced on Saturday that the vote would take place on 8 April .
President Boutaflika has
Abrika complained that the government had shown “no political will” during the talks to give Tamazight official recognition.
“The process of dialogue has ended,” the APS agency quoted the spokesman as saying after the talks collapsed late on Saturday.
The government had offered to put the Berber demands for Tamazight’s official recognition to a referendum, but community leaders instead want it to be approved by parliament.
In April 2002 the parliament voted to give Tamazight status as a national language, but the Berber leaders want to go a step further and give it the same official recognition enjoyed by Arabic.
The head of Algeria’s government, Ahmad Ouyahia, said at the end of January that the question of Tamazight “concerns all of Algeria” and could be addressed only through a referendum.
The stalemate over the language issue has impeded progress on other key sticking points between the Berbers and the government over a set of demands drawn up by the aarchs after the 2001 riots, known as the “Black Spring”.
The demands include recognition of the Berber identity and a
plan for renewal and economic reform in impoverished Kabylie.