Algeria democracy rally broken up
Several injured as police disperse 300 people who defied a ban and attempted to demonstrate in the capital, Algiers.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2011 16:53 GMT
Riots first erupted in Algeria in early January over rising food costs and unemployment [AFP]

At least 19 people have been injured after Algerian police broke up a banned pro-democracy demonstration in Algiers aimed at pressing the government to overturn a law banning public gatherings, government officials said.

Hundreds of Algerians defied the ban in an attempt to hold the demonstration on Saturday but were confronted by dozens of police armed with batons, tear gas and plexiglas shields.

Said Sadi, the head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), said at least 40 people were injured and dozens more were arested in the demonstration.

Among those arrested was the head of the party's parliamentary group, Othmane Amazouz, Sadi said.

Sadi said his party's headquarters in the Algerian capital's main avenue had been put under siege by police, describing himself as "a prisoner".

"We cannot wage a peaceful campaign when we are under siege," he said, using a megaphone to address the crowd from a first-floor window.

'Violent regime'

Ait Hamouda Nordine, an RCD member of parliament, told Al Jazeera: "[Algeria] is a violent regime, it's an anti-democratic regime and it is time for Algeria to attain credible and democratic systems and parties."

The government had warned people not to show support for the demonstration in Algiers in a statement issued on the eve of the march, amid fears of popular unrest spreading from neighbouring Tunisia.

The government warning, carried by official news agency APS, stated "marches are not allowed in Algiers" and that "all assemblies on public roads are considered a breach of public order".

The march was planned "without authorisation", it said. Demonstrations are banned in Algeria because of a state of emergency in place since 1992.

Tunisia effect

The demonstration in Algiers came as protesters in Tunisia continued to demand the dissolution of the interim government that took charge after the country's authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was forced to flee on January 14 in the face of a popular uprising.

Riots erupted in Algeria in early January over rising food costs and unemployment.

Five days of clashes between demonstrators and security forces left five people dead and more than 800 wounded.

The government responded swiftly by reducing the prices of oil, sugar and other basic necessities which had risen sharply, while buying up a million tonnes of wheat amid assurances that subsidies on essential goods like flour would continue.

However, unrest still simmers and within the past two weeks eight people set themselves on fire in Algeria, although some cases were deemed to be linked to mental-health issues.

Unemployment, specifically of the young, is a crucial issue in Algeria, a country where according to the authorities 15 million of the 36 million population is under the age of 30.

Nabila Ramdani, an Algerian journalist told Al Jazeera that the situation could deteriorate in Algeria as the people there share the same problems as the Tunisians.

"The protesters are saying we are sharing the same problems as the Tunisians, we have poverty in both countries, high unemployment and soaring inflation, and a corrupt government.

"Just like the Tunisians, they want radical reforms, more democracy in Algeria; this is why people were shouting 'free Algeria'.”

Al Jazeera and agencies
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