Thousands of people defied an official ban on demonstrations in the Algerian capital and gathered in the city centre for an pro-reform protest on Saturday, the day after weeks of mass protests in Egypt succeeded in toppling the president.
Organisers of the march estimated some 10,000 people had flooded downtown Algiers, where they skirmished with riot police attempting to block off streets and disperse the crowd. Some arrests were reported.
Protesters chanted slogans including “No to the police state” and “Bouteflika out,” a reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999.
Under the country’s long-standing state of emergency, protests are banned in Algiers, but the government’s repeated warnings for people to stay out of the streets apparently fell on deaf ears.
The march comes at a sensitive time in Algeria just a day after the uprising in Egypt that forced Hosni Mubarak to abandon the presidency after 30 years. It also comes on the heels of a “people’s revolution” in neighbouring Tunisia that pushed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on January 14.
The success of those uprisings looked bound to fuel the hopes of those seeking change in Algeria, though many in this conflict-scarred country fear any prospect of violence following the brutal insurgency by Islamist extremists in the 1990s that has left an estimated 200,000 dead.
Organised by the Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria, an umbrella group of human rights activists, unionists, lawyers and others, today’s march was aimed at pressing for reforms to push Algeria toward democracy and didn’t include any specific call by organisers to oust Bouteflika.