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Libyan Berbers protest against new government

By AFP

TRIPOLI (AFP) - Dozens of Amazighs -- or Berbers -- protested in Tripoli's Martyrs Square on Friday for being shut out of the new government and demanded that their language and rights be recognised in Libya.

"We want our rights and now!" shouted protester Wail Eln Moammer after the long-awaited Libyan government unveiled earlier this week failed to include a minister from the minority Amazigh community.

"We are the indigenous people of Libya. Give us our rights and we want them now," said Eln Moammer in fluent English as he held a banner demanding equal rights for Libya's Amazighs.

During the 41 years of Moamer Kadhafi's hardline rule, the Amazighs -- whose name means "free men" -- were banned from publicly speaking, writing or printing anything in their own tongue, tamazight.

The Berbers, who make up some 10 percent of Libya's six million people, are now angry after this week's cabinet list was absent of members from their community.

"The thinking that was prevalent in Kadhafi's rule is still continuing," said another protester Ibrahim Byala, an engineer residing in Tripoli.

"If we don't show our strength now, we will lose," he told AFP as behind him a group of fellow Berbers held posters saying "All Libyans are brothers!", "We hope (for a) great future for Amazighs!" and "No constitutional legitimacy without Amazighs!."

"Thousands of my brothers have died in the revolution. Our blood can't go to waste. We will keep protesting," Byala said.

The Berbers were present in Libya before the Arab conquest in the seventh century and are remembered for their military resistance to the Italian occupation which ended 60 years ago.

A minority nationwide, the Amazighs form a majority in the northwestern Nafusa mountains, in Zuwarah region 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of Tripoli and in Ghadamis province on the frontier with Algeria.

Active from the start of the revolt against Kadhafi, the Berbers worked with the Arabs to topple the regime. With the war over, they now want to contribute and take their place in Libya's political and cultural life.

On Thursday after the unveiling of the government, the National Amazigh Congress called on all Libyans, and Berbers in particular, to end cooperation with the National Transitional Council and with the interim government.

The appointment as defence minister of Osama Juili, commander of the fighters who seized Kadhafi's most prominent son Seif al-Islam last Saturday and who comes from Zintan, a hilltown in the Nafusa, has also failed to satisfy the aspirations of the Berber community as Juili is an Arab.