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Algerian Police Clamp Down on Rally in Capital


Riot police officers detain a protester during a demonstration in Algiers, February 19, 2011

Riot police officers detain a protester during a demonstration in Algiers, February 19, 2011

Hundreds of Algerian police broke up an anti-government rally in the capital Saturday, taking away at least one opposition member for questioning. Another opposition lawmaker was reportedly hospitalized.

Journalists on the scene describe hundreds of Algerian riot police encircling some of the protesters and shoving others away from the May 1 Square where the march was supposed to start. The police carried clubs but apparently no firearms. News services report several people were injured including lawmaker Tahar Besbas of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy party.

One of the rally organizers told France's RTL radio the demonstrators wanted to stage a peaceful protest. He said protesters wanted the government to end Algeria's 19-year-old state of emergency and social justice. He said young Algerians have lost faith in their government.

The rally is the second organized this month by the Coordination for Change and Democracy, a month-old umbrella group made up of human rights organizations, opposition politicians and trade unions.

Opposition to the government of Abdelaziz Bouteflika grew this week to include the former head of the ruling party and former minister Abedlhamid Mehri. In an open letter to President Bouteflika published in the Algerian press, he accused the government of being incapable of solving the country's problems.

The government has announced several concessions and promised to lift the state of emergency by the month's end.

Moreover, the protests have so far failed to draw the thousands of demonstrators witness in Egypt, Tunisia and now Bahrain. Analysts point in part to the serious police presence as a drawback - but also to a fractured opposition and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s, which continues to haunt the population.

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