Algerian police break up crowd at pro-reform rally police

Police brandishing clubs weave through crowd in central Algiers, banging shields tackling protesters, and keeping traffic flow.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 19, 2011 14:47
2 minute read.
A man holds an Algerian flag in front of police.

Algeria protests 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

ALGIERS, Algeria — Algerian police thwarted a rally by thousands of pro-democracy supporters Saturday, breaking up the crowd into isolated groups in a bid to keep them from marching.

Police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, weaved their way through the crowd in central Algiers, banging their shields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowing through the planned march route.

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The gathering, organized by the Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria, comes a week after a similar protest, which organizers said brought an estimated 10,000 people and up to 26,000 riot police onto the streets of Algiers. Officials put turnout at the previous rally at 1,500.

The new protest comes on the heels of uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt that toppled those countries' autocratic leaders.

Police presence at Saturday's march was more discrete than the week before, when huge contingents of riot police were deployed throughout the capital the night before the march. On Friday night, by contrast, the capital was calm, with police taking up their positions only Saturday morning.

Still, by breaking up the crowd, the police managed to turn the planned march into a chaotic rally of small groups.

That didn't stop 92-year-old human rights advocate Ali Yahia Abdenour, of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. The frail man cried out, "We want democracy, the sovereignty of the people."

The new march comes amid weeks of strikes and scattered protests in the North African country, which has promised to lift a 19-year state of emergency by month's end in a nod to the growing mass of disgruntled citizens.

University students and nurses are among those who have held intermittent strikes, joined by the unemployed. Even the richest region, around the gas fields of Hassi Messaoud, was not spared as around 500 jobless youths protested Wednesday, the daily El Watan reported.

A group of communal guards — citizens armed by the state to fight the two-decades-long Islamist insurgency — joined the protest Wednesday in front of the governor's office in Medea, around 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Algiers to demand a variety of social benefits.

Rising food prices led to five days of riots in Algeria last month that left three people dead.

In Algeria, Bouteflika has promised the lifting of a state of emergency by the end of the month. The measure, put in place to combat a budding insurgency by Islamist extremists, bans large public gatherings.


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