UPDATE 1-Algerians protest over al Qaeda violence
* Villagers demand more protection from government
* Protest sparked by kidnap attempt that killed businessman
* Al Qaeda branch uses mountainous area as stronghold
(Edits, adds more quotes)
By Lamine Chikhi
FREHA, Algeria, Nov 22 (Reuters) - About 2,500 people demonstrated in a remote part of Algeria on Monday to demand that security forces do more to protect them from al Qaeda-linked militants who use the area as a stronghold.
The unusually large display of public anger was triggered by a botched kidnapping attempt a week ago, carried out by suspected members of al Qaeda's north African wing, in which a local businessman was killed.
Energy exporter Algeria has for two decades been fighting an Islamist insurgency which at its peak in the 1990s killed an estimated 200,000 people. The violence has subsided in the past few years, though ambushes and attacks still happen.
Monday's protest was in Freha, a town of about 24,000 people 130 km (80 miles) east of the capital, Algiers. The town is in the mountainous Kabylie region, where militants regularly attack security forces and kidnap local people for ransom.
The protesters' anger was directed at the Islamist militants, who over the years have kidnapped dozens of local businesspeople, but also at what local people say is the authorities' inaction.
"The government must guarantee our security. This is its job," Heni Ounah, a 35-year-old businessman, told Reuters.
Mohamed Ikherbane, a member of the upper house of parliament, demanded an immediate investigation into the kidnapping.
"We don't understand the government's silence," said Ikherbane, an activist with the opposition Rally for Democracy and Culture (RCD) party, which draws most of its support from the Kabylie region.
Local media said a group of insurgents tried to abduct businessman Hand Slimana on Nov. 14. He was shot trying to escape and later died from his wounds. The kidnappers took a second man hostage, but let him go on Sunday, reports said.
"We are afraid. Kidnapping is an economic catastrophe for the region. No investment, no jobs, nothing," 65-year-old Said Saadi told Reuters.
Under pressure from security forces, al Qaeda's local branch has shifted some of its operations south to the Sahara desert. The group is holding five French citizens and two Africans after kidnapping them in Niger two months ago.
The Kabylie region is dominated by Berbers, an ethnic group with its own language and culture which has had a tense relationship with Algeria's Arabic-speaking majority.
RCD lawmakers heckled Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia when he gave an address in parliament last month. That was a rare show of dissent in Algeria, where most political parties are restrained in their criticism of the government. (Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jan Harvey)
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