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Hundreds take to Algiers streets despite ban on protests

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Hundreds of demonstrators have marched in the Algerian capital, Algiers, to mark the 32nd anniversary of a pro-democracy movement and renew calls for political change.

The rally on Monday came just two days before the beginning of campaigning for a November 1 referendum on a new constitution that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has insisted will usher in a new for the North African country.

Protests first erupted in cities across the country in February 2019 to reject former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to seek a fifth term in office. The demonstrations intensified even after the wheelchair-bound octogenarian leader resigned in April last year under pressure by the powerful military, demanding the departure of the entire state apparatus, widely seen as inept and corrupt.

Demands by the anti-establishment Hirak protest movement for a vote to elect a constituent assembly that would then draft a new constitution largely went unanswered, with the army pressing ahead with a contentious vote that Tebboune – seen by many as the military’s candidate – won in a landslide.

In March, the government banned street protests, saying the move was necessary to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, some 400 to 500 demonstrators on Monday tried to march to central Algiers but were dispersed by police who made a number of arrests, according to local media reports.

Protests also took place in several other areas of Algeria, with demonstrators chanting: “The people want the fall of the regime” and “Yes to a civil state, no to a military state”, according to a prisoners support committee called the CNLD and videos posted on social media.

The demonstrators called for the release of members of the Hirak – according to the CNLD, more than 60 people, including journalists, activists and other civil society actors, are behind bars for acts related to the protest movement.

With less than a month to go before the key referendum on constitutional reform – a vote the government hopes will meet protesters’ demands – many expect a resurgence of rallies.

Monday’s protests also marked the anniversary of October 1988 demonstrations which rocked Algiers, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency.

Those protests left 150 dead, according to an official toll, but rights activists have said the actual figure was more 500.

The army clamped down on the demonstrators but introduced political reforms which brought an end to a single-party system.

Source: Al Jazeera


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