Thousands of Algerians defy police in protest

Thousands of Algerians marched on Monday in the capital and other cities to celebrate the second anniversary of the North African nation’s anti-government “Hirak” protest movement that cramped Algeria before the Covid-19 pandemic forced it off the streets.

Chanting “A civilian state not a military state!”, “That’s enough!” and “The people want independence!”, protesters marched through the capital waving national flags, guarded by a large number of police.

Some of the protesters hope to be able to revive the Hirak protests twice a week, which increased through Algerian cities from February 2019 for more than a year, regularly bringing tens of thousands of people to the streets until the global pandemic began.

“We are determined to continue our fight for victory,” said Djamel Habi, a student.

Other protesters said, however, that the march was symbolic rather than a return to regular demonstrations, or that without a clear opposition leadership they were not yet sure if they would continue with protests.

The Hirak movement in April 2019 forced longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign, and Monday’s demonstration in Algiers was the largest since meetings were suspended in March last year due to the pandemic.

Heavy security presence in Algiers

Security checkpoints created traffic jams throughout the city, with identity checks carried out around important flash points, with several arrests made.

The police tried to prevent protesters from gathering around the Grand Post Office, which was the core of the mass protests that started in Algiers and several other cities February 22, 2019 to oppose Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth period.

Elsewhere in the country, marches were held on Monday, including in Annaba, Oran, Setif and Mostaganem, according to witnesses and social media accounts.

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‘Same old people’

Ahead of Hirak’s second anniversary, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a limited change of government in an effort to stave off renewed meetings.

The change saw some major changes in Tebboune, who was once prime minister under Bouteflika.

Among those detained are Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, seen as a symbol of Algeria’s legal aggregation of protesters and opposition activists.

Tebboune also signed a decree dissolving Parliament and paving the way for early elections, for which no date has yet been set.

In a security gesture on Thursday, he announced pardons that have so far led to the release of nearly 40 pro-democracy activists, including opposition figure Rachid Nekkaz and journalist Khaled Drareni, who has become a symbol of a struggle for a free press.

Tebboune returned to Algeria last week after spending most of the last four months in Germany receiving medical treatment after receiving Covid-19.

Zaki Hannache, a 33-year-old activist, said Hirak’s supporters were not impressed by the president’s change and his call for early legislative inquiry.

“The change does not interest me, it is the same old people. The same thing with Parliament, the new (deputies) will work, as the current regime, for their own interests, not for the people,” he said.

On Tuesday, thousands of Algerians gathered in the northern city of Kherrata, where the first major protest erupted in 2019 against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth presidential term.

( Jowharwith AFP and REUTERS)