ALGERIA: Clashes, arrests reported at banned anti-government demonstration
Algerian police cracked down on demonstrators at a banned Egypt-inspired anti-government march Saturday in the Algerian capital, clashing with protesters and arresting rally-goers, media reports said.
A journalist with the Agence France Presse news agency said that around 2,000 demonstrators were out in the streets of Algiers forcing a police cordon.
According to Algerian human rights activist Mustapha Bouchachi, Algerian security forces detained 100 demonstrators at the march, which had been called by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), an umbrella group of opposition parties and civil society movements.
“This is evidence that the authorities don’t accept peaceful demonstrations,” Bouchachi told Bloomberg News at the protest. "2011 will be a year for change. This is the first attempt.”
There were reports that those arrested include a deputy from the Algerian opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy, Othmane Maazouz.
Video footage, posted on YouTube and said to have been filmed at Saturday's protest in Algiers, appears to show police beating a protester with sticks and hauling him away. In the backgound, demonstrators are heard shouting, "The people want the fall of the regime," in Arabic, the same slogan chanted by Egyptian revolutionaries.
The CNCD had called for a mass protest Saturday demanding democratic change and more job opportunities, but only about 50 people had managed to get to the May 1 Square in central Algiers early Saturday, according to the Reuters news agency. The small group of protesters were seen shouting anti-government slogans and calling for the ouster of the Algerian president while surrounded by a field of police officers, added the report.
The Algerian French daily El Watan reported that the atmosphere was very tense at the square on Saturday afternoon, with police reinforcements being deployed and throngs of supporters of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika trying to provoke demonstrators.
Algerian officials had banned the opposition march, and thousands of police in riot gear reportedly fanned out in the Algerian capital earlier on Saturday to stop the demonstration and prevent protesters from trying to stage an Egypt-style revolt.
As anti-government demonstrations spread across the Arab world, President Bouteflika announced earlier this month that the government would soon remove the country's state of emergency, which has been in place for the past 19 years. He also vowed to allow demonstrations, currently banned under the emergency law, to be held across the country except in the capital, Algiers.
Earlier this year, Algeria witnessed rioting over high commodity prices and unemployment. The rioting reportedly resulted in four deaths and hundreds of injuries.
--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Many Algerian demonstrators have been inspired by the popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. Credit: Agence France Presse. Video credit: YouTube