Algerian police mobilise to stifle Egyptian-inspired protest

2011-02-12 09:31

Algerian police mobilised in central Algiers today to head off a banned march by pro-democracy campaigners heartened by the downfall of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak.

Already yesterday, officers had broken up a gathering of people outside the Algiers offices for the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), as they celebrated Mubarak’s downfall.

Police charged the demonstrators and arrested 10 people, said RCD leader Said Sadi, adding that several protesters had to be treated in hospital.
“It wasn’t even an organised demonstration. It was spontaneous. It was an explosion of joy,” he said.

He said the authorities had ringed the capital in a bid to prevent people travelling into Algiers to join the march.

“Trains have been stopped and other public transport will be as well,” he said.

He claimed that 10 000 police were being drafted into the city to reinforce the 20 000 who succeeded in blocking the last protest on January 22, when five people were killed and more than 800 hurt in clashes.

Large quantities of tear gas grenades had been imported, he added.

Early today, anti-riot vehicles and water cannon were seen ready for action along the planned route of the march from the square where it was scheduled to begin around mid-morning.

Police roadblocks on avenues leading into the city following suicide attacks in 2007 had been strengthened and uniformed police were patrolling the streets.

Traffic jams began earlier than usual, around 8.30am, with nervous drivers honking their horns non-stop.

Today’s rally has been called by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), an umbrella group of opposition parties, civil society movements and unofficial unions set up only three weeks ago, emboldened by the mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

The CNCD is demanding the immediate end of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing problems and soaring costs that inspired uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Like their north African counterparts, the protesters have used Facebook and text messages to spread their call for change.

Protesters in the main western city of Oran have also vowed to go ahead with a march despite a ban by local authorities.

Meanwhile, a 36-year-old unemployed man and father of six died in eastern Algeria yesterday after setting himself on fire on January 17 in regional council offices in eastern Algeria, his family said.

His death brings to four the number of Algerians who have died from self-immolation since January.

Altogether, at least a dozen Algerians have set themselves on fire so far this year, apparently inspired by a similar act in neighbouring Tunisia that catalysed the downfall of that country’s authoritarian regime.

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