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Hundreds injured in Algerian riots

ALGIERS, Algeria -- Riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of thousands of protesters trying to reach the presidential compound in Algiers.

Two journalists were killed in the protests, on Thursday, which came during a "march for democracy" sparked by nearly two months of bloody unrest.

Hundreds more were reported injured in the violent confrontations.

LCI French television reported between two to four deaths.

An Algerian journalist reporting for LCI, Baya Gacemi, said she had heard gunfire but could not say where it was coming from.

Hundreds of riot police blocked access to the main Avenue de l'Independance leading up to the presidency as protesters gathered, chanting in French "Generals, murderers" and "No forgiveness."

Hospital sources told the Associated Press that between 400 and 500 people were injured, six critically, in the protest, which was called by Berber groups but supported by numerous opposition parties.

Reuters said the two Algerian journalists were run over by a bus driven by a demonstrator speeding out of a maintenance garage belonging to the Algiers public transport authority that had been set on fire by protesters.

The two were identified as Fatela Nedjma, a woman reporter at the Echourouk el Yawni Arabic-speaking daily newspaper, and Adel Rezou, who worked for a magazine in western Algeria.

The demonstrators were demanding justice and more freedom from the military-backed government after weeks of deadly riots.

Demonstrators, some carrying knives and hatchets, threw stones and iron bars at facades of buildings, destroying them.

They also smashed the glass front of the Sofitel, the most luxurious hotel in Algiers, and destroyed dozens of cars.

Sporadic rioting continued along the main arteries of Algiers hours after the march ended, and streets were strewn with broken lampposts. Columns of smoke from fires and tear gas wafted into the sky.

Teenager's death sparked riots

There was no official estimate of the number of marchers, but informal estimates reached about half a million.

Marchers carried signs denouncing the "hogra," a word used to refer to injustice and abuse of power, and denounced authorities as "assassins."

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.

The march comes after at least 52 people were killed during 40 days of rioting in the mountainous Berber region of Kabyle that begins about 100 kms (60 miles) east of Algiers.

The riots were triggered by the April 18 death of a teenager 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.

• Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Arabic, French)

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