Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Algeria’s capital on Friday as the “Hirak” pro-democracy movement regains momentum after a year-long hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite a ban on rallies over the pandemic, crowds gathered in several districts of Algiers in the early afternoon and marched towards the city center, AFP reporters said.
“It’s amazing. It’s like the big Friday Hirak is protesting,” a protester said.
Hirak’s protests were sparked in February 2019 over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, and the longtime leader was forced out of power in April that year.
Protesters staged weekly protests after Bouteflika’s resignation and demanded a comprehensive overhaul of a ruling system since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
They only canceled marches last March due to coronavirus restrictions, but recently conversations have been circulating on social media to return to the streets.
Protesters on Friday were met by security forces using truncheons and firing tear gas as a crowd forced its way through a police barrier to reach the Grand Post Office, the main Alger rallying point for the Hirak protests, films on the Interligne news site showed. .
“Neither Islamists nor secularists, but Hirakists,” read a banner carrying protesters.
The crowd chanted “Civil state, not military state” – an important protesting demonstration, referring to the military establishment in control of Algerian politics.
Police cars took up positions near the main squares in the city center and barriers were set up on several major roads leading into the capital.
Meetings were also held in some provinces, including northeastern Kabylie and northwestern Oran, where a prominent human rights activist, academic Kadour Chouicha, was arrested, according to the Prisoners’ Rights Group CNLD.
In Algiers, people in the crowd said there seemed to be at least as many people on the streets as last Monday, when thousands marched to mark the second anniversary of Hirak’s protests.