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Algeria's Opposition Praises Protesters for Evading Police Blockade


Algerian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, February 12, 2011

Algerian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, February 12, 2011

Algeria's opposition is praising a rare anti-government demonstration in Algiers, which went forward despite the presence of tens of thousands of police.

About 2,000 activists rallied in the capital's May 1st Square, Saturday, and called for the removal of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, drawing inspiration from uprisings that ousted his Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts in the past month. Many of the activists had to jump over or squeeze around police barricades to reach the protest site.

Algeria's government had deployed almost 30,000 police to try to prevent any opposition protests. The police blocked activists who reached the square from setting off on a planned march through the capital.

Organizers say police broke up the rally after several hours, scuffling with the protesters, including elderly human rights campaigner Ali Yahia Abdenour. Scores of activists were briefly detained, but there were no reports of violence.

Algerian opposition leaders called the protest a success, saying the activists had overcome a fear of government repression for violating a decade-old ban on public protests in Algiers.

Algerian President Bouteflika has been in office since 1999. Many Algerians see him as an authoritarian leader who has failed to ease widespread poverty and high unemployment - factors that also fueled the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

Tensions have been high in Algeria since early January, when at least three people were killed in several days of riots over rising food prices.

Bouteflika has responded to the unrest by promising to lift a 19-year-long state of emergency in the near future.

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