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World

Berbers mark 20 years since Algeria's 'Black Spring' protests

  • Instead, the boy's death sparked the "Black Spring" riots, as people took to the streets of villages and towns to demand the closure of all gendarmerie posts in the region.
18 Apr 2021

ALGIERS: Twenty years ago, an Algerian teenager's death in police custody in the heartland of the North African country's Berber minority sparked an uprising that helped blaze the trail for future protests.

Massinissa Guermah, a high school student, was hit by a hail of bullets on April 18, 2001, at a gendarmerie post in Beni-Douala, near Tizi Ouzou, the capital of Kabylie.

He had been arrested following an altercation between youths and gendarmes, and died from his wounds two days later.

"Nobody could imagine that a gendarme at his post could kill a young man in cold blood," recalled Said Sadi, an emblematic figure in the Berber culture and identity movement. The Berbers are descendants of pre-Arab North African populations, whose homelands stretch from the extreme west of Egypt to Morocco.

"The people's reaction was one of anger," Sadi told AFP.

Kabylie had been preparing to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the April 1980 uprising, known as the "Berber Spring", demanding recognition of the community's culture and language.

Instead, the boy's death sparked the "Black Spring" riots, as people took to the streets of villages and towns to demand the closure of all gendarmerie posts in the region.

An estimated 126 people, many of them youths shot in clashes with riot police, died in two months of unrest, and more than 5,000 people were hurt.

Almost two decades later, in an echo of boiling anger against the authorities, then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office sparked the birth of the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement in February 2019.

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