Algerian police block planned protests for regime change
ALGIERS (AFP) – Algerian police and pro-government activists on Saturday foiled another attempt by opposition protesters to march in the capital Algiers to demand regime change.
A faction of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD) had called the protest in three different parts of the city for 11:00 am (1000 GMT) in defiance of an official ban on demonstrating in Algiers.
But several dozen demonstrators found themselves quickly surrounded by police.
Counter-demonstrators carrying photos of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika chanted “Bouteflika Is Not (Hosni) Mubarak” — the Egyptian president forced out by a popular uprising on February 18.
They chased and roughed up the anti-government protestors.
The counter-demonstrators, mostly young people, then turned on Said Sadi, a member of the CNCD and the head of the small opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), saying they would “lynch” him, according to an eyewitness.
Sadi fled the scene after shouting: “We will continue to march regardless of the steps the regime takes to prevent us.”
Saturday’s foiled protest was the sixth attempt since January 22.
Sadi told AFP by telephone that his attackers had “knifed him, but it wasn’t serious.” Police told AFP they had received no complaint.
The CNCD denounced what it said was the complicity between police and pro-regime supporters against the protesters, who included women. They had been openly threatened with knives, a statement passed to AFP said.
In the Hussein Dey district, opposite the courthouse, around 10 demonstrators arrived an hour before the planned march, among them two RCD deputies.
They were joined by Ali Yahia Abdennour, 90 year-old honorary president of the Algerian Human Rights Defence League (LADDH), but they were isolated by security agents.
West of Algiers, at Ain Benian, barriers were set up Saturday morning to prevent pedestrian access. Armoured vehicles and a large detachment of police kept the area under observation, though witnesses said nothing took place.
Sadi accused the authorities of having banned marches outside Algiers.
In the major western city of Oran a planned march was banned and some 100 people were arrested, said the CNCD. Those arrested and briefly detained included CNCD local representative Kaddour Chouicha and some 10 reporters, the group said.
Algeria’s national journalist union, the SNJ, condemned the arrests, saying in a statement that police that journalists and protesters had been “led away as if they were vulgar, common criminals.”
The SNJ, which represents more than a thousand members, also denounced “the repression of demonstrators in any form.”
The CNCD was set up on January 21 after riots at the start of the year left five dead and 800 injured.
It later split between supporters of street protests and civil society groups and independent trade unions who prefer to pursue other measures.
The CNCD has said it wants the immediate end of Bouteflika’s regime, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing and soaring costs that inspired the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Bouteflika, 73, promised on February 24 to place “anti-corruption” at the heart of government action, along with reforms to help the economy, employment and housing to regain Algerians’ support.
Later an organisation representing the jobless in Algeria called for a demonstration on March 20.
It wants a guaranteed unemployment benefit equal to half the minimum wage, the abolition of military service for those over 25, a reduction in the duration of military service and the creation of new jobs.