Anti-government protests thwarted as Algeria bans street marches over coronavirus

Algeria has banned street protests against the coronavirus, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said Tuesday, ending a year of unprecedented mass protests that overthrew the veteran president and overturned the state.

“The life of citizens is above all a consideration even if it means restricting certain freedoms,” he said.

Algeria has confirmed 60 cases of coronavirus, including five deaths, mainly in the city of Blida, south of the capital, and has restricted numerous trips abroad and closed mosques.

The protest movement, known as Hirak, exploded on the streets in February 2019, as it became clear that octogenarian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika would seek another term in office after 20 years of work.

Protesters quickly moved on from demanding that he step down to insist that the entire ruling elite that has ruled Algeria since independence from France in 1962 must also resign.

In April, as hundreds of thousands of people continued to walk the streets of major cities, Bouteflika gave in. He resigned a few hours after the powerful army chief, Ahmed Gaed Salah, said he had to leave.

With Bouteflika out of power, authorities have started to detain many of his closest allies for corruption in the largest purge of the ruling class in decades, but protesters viewed the reforms as cosmetic and would not back down.

As they began to demand the withdrawal of the military from politics and the resignation of Gaed Salah, the army chief called for new elections to replace Bouteflika.

The demonstrators opposed it, saying that any vote would be illegitimate while the old elite still dominated. But the elections were held in December, putting Tebboune in power.

A few days later, Gaed Salah died suddenly of a heart attack, which means that all the most prominent Algerian personalities of the previous year, men who had dominated power for decades, had left the scene.

Tebboune offered interviews with the protesters and promised to change the constitution, but the street protests continued, although with what the witnesses said, they were smaller.

While the coronavirus arrived in North Africa this month, some protesters said they would no longer work for public health, but thousands have still taken to the streets.