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Protests demand release of 18 Berber youth activists arrested over display of banned flag

DEMONSTRATIONS took place in Algiers today following Sunday’s arrest of young activists for displaying the Berber flag during the 18th week of anti-government protests.

Algerian authorities ordered the arrest of 18 Berber rights activists on grounds of “undermining national unity.” If found guilty they could face 10 years in prison.

But activists and supporters rallied outside the courthouse that issued the arrest warrants in central Algiers to protest against their detention.

“We’re fed up with those in power. We’re fed up with the generals,” they chanted.

The arrests came after army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah banned flags other than the Algerian standard from demonstrations.

He fears unity between the country’s sizeable Berber minority and the Arab population, with protesters saying over the weekend that “building the new Algeria is impossible without the two flags.”

Displays of the Berber flag have become increasingly prominent in anti-government protests in recent weeks. Many have travelled from the Kabylie region east of Algiers, home to the country’s largest Berber community, to join the demonstrations.

The community has historically been marginalised in Algeria with its language, culture and practices previously banned.

In 1980 the “Berber spring” saw a movement press for recognition of the Berber identity. It was brutally put down by the government after months of strikes and protest.

However, in 2001 a rejuvenated campaign forced the authorities to grant some of its demands, including recognition of Berber as a national language in the 2002 Algerian constitution.

Tomorrow, rallies will mark the 21st anniversary of the murder of prominent Berber rights activist Lounes Matoub.

Algeria remains in political deadlock with huge demonstrations taking place in the capital Algiers every Friday.

A poll planned for July 4 was scrapped, having no popular support.

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