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Inquiry into Algerian riots

ALGIERS, Algeria (CNN) -- An inquiry into rioting in the Berber region in which 41 people have died will be open and transparent, Algeria's interior minister has pledged.

Noureddine Zerhouni told CNN that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced an investigation into the clashes between youths and security forces in Kabyle, in northeastern Algeria, sparked by the death of a student in police custody.

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Official Algerian figures record that 40 civilians and one gendarme were killed and that a total of 484 civilians and 388 police and gendarmes were injured.

Zerhouni added that the situation in the region had "highly improved" since the announcement.

On Saturday alone, 29 people were reported to have been killed and new clashes erupted on Monday leading to the death of a young protester in Haizer, east of Algiers.

Eight other protesters died of wounds sustained in earlier clashes in nearby Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Algiers, security forces said.

Zerhouni said the national commission would be open to civilian groups and would have complete freedom in determining its findings.

He then accused "extremists" of inciting the riots and said security forces had demonstrated "real responsibility," using their arms only when "absolutely necessary."

The Berbers have been demanding an investigation since the 18-year-old youth died in custody on April 18 -- with police saying an officer's gun went off accidentally.

The Front for Socialist Forces (FFS), a leading pro-Berber party, has called for the European Union to send a team to Algeria to investigate and said it would seek a special United Nations envoy to press authorities to move toward democracy.

But Zerhouni told CNN that U.N. or EU officials would not be involved in the process. "(We) trust in our people to find the truth," he said.

He added that the president had suggested that the Berber language Tamazight could receive some legal recognition.

Berbers, who sau they are the original inhabitants of North Africa, have had tense relations with Algiers for decades as part of a political struggle for official recognition of their language. And the recent clashes broadened to vent frustration at poverty, unemployment and government policies in the Berber region.

It is not directly related to an Islamic insurgency raging in Algeria since 1992 which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The violence has prompted the head of a pro-Berber party to threaten to pull his party's two ministers from the government.

"Personally, I would say that it is impossible to remain in a government that fires real bullets at its own people," Said Sadi, head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy, said on Sunday in Algiers.

The decision to withdraw would be put to a meeting of the party's national council on Tuesday, he said.

Zerhouni said there would also be a separate parliamentary investigation into the riots.



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Algerian National Council (in Arabic and French)
Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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