Police violently dispersed 400 persons who assembled today for a demonstration on behalf of Berber culture. About 200 arrests were reported.

The demonstrators, mostly students, planned to march through Algiers protesting what they see as efforts to stamp out the Berber culture, which predates the conquest of North African by Islam.

Riot police stepped in after letting the crowd swell for about 15 minutes. A number of demonstrators were beaten and some were taken away in ambulances. The remainder grouped behind the iron grills of Algiers University and chanted antigovernment slogans as police reinforcements were brought up.

The students were from Tizi-Ouzou in the mountainous Kabyle district east of Algiers, the heartland of the Berber race and culture.

The demonstration apparently was sparked by the government's refusal to permit a symposium on old Berber poetry at the Tizi-Ouzou college.

Last year the government allowed students to protest against the state's failure to end the use of French by the Algerian bureaucracy. Observers believe President Benjadid Chadli took tough action against the pro-Berber group to prevent students from becoming a base of antigovernment agitation.

Illegal leaflets have been distributed for some time in Algiers by Kabyle nationalists threatening a campaign for recognition of the Berber language if the Algerian authorities insisted on imposing a switch from French to Arabic in the administration.

The Kabyles, who represent 3 million of Algeria's population of more than 18 million, are disproportionately influential in Algerian society, especially in the Army. They tend to be better-educated than other groups and they played a major role in the country's long independence war.

A linkup in the dissatisfactions of university students demanding broader use of Arabic and demands for recognition of a separate Kabyle culture identity could represent a major problem for the government.