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Algerian police break up protest
Several people are injured and others are arrested as police thwart pro-democracy rally in capital Algiers, reports say.
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2011 09:30 GMT
Large numbers of police were mobilised to try to prevent Saturday's protest from going ahead

Algerian police in riot gear have used batons to break up a crowd of hundreds of opposition supporters trying to take part in a protest march inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

Police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, weaved their way through the crowd in central Algiers on Saturday, banging their shields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowing through the planned march route.

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The gathering, organised by the Co-ordination for Democratic Change in Algeria (CNCD), comes a week after a similar protest, which organisers said brought an estimated 10,000 people and up to 26,000 riot police onto the streets of the capital. Officials, however, put turnout at the previous rally at 1,500.

The fresh protest comes on the heels of uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt that toppled those countries' leaders.

Police presence at Saturday's march was more discreet than the week before, when huge contingents of riot police were deployed throughout the capital the night before the march. On Friday night, by contrast, the capital was calm, with police taking up their positions only on Saturday morning.

Still, by breaking up the crowd, the police managed to turn the planned march into a chaotic rally of small groups.

The Mothers of the Disappeared, a group of parents who seek justice and information about their family members who were forcibly disappeared during the country's civil war of the 1990s, also participated in the protest at Algiers.

Around 100 people attended a twin protest in Oran, according to the LADDH.

Police violence

Several protesters were kicked or beaten by police on Saturday. 

Mustafa Bouchachi, head of the Algerian Human Rights League and one of the protest's organisers, said police struck him, although he was not seriously injured.

He told Al Jazeera that the CNCD will be meeting in the coming days to decide what form their future protest actions against the regime will take.

Young men armed with knives attacked some protesters. Police used new tactics, kicking people with stell-toe boots to avoid camera lenses, according to the LADDH.

Tahar Besabess, a member of the opposition RCD party, lost consciousness and was taken to the emergency services at Mustapha Bacha Hospital after he received blows to the head and thorax.

Rachid Malaoui, president of an independent trade union (SNAPAP), was taken to hospital after his leg was dislocated.

Little freedom of movement

El Watan, the Algerian daily newspaper, reported that train services had been shut down completely. Authorities set up road blocks on the highway that links Tizi-Ouzou, Boumerdes and Bejaia to the capital, and reportedly refused to allow some people from the eastern region of Kabylie, known for its long tradition of popular uprisings, to pass.

"They tried to prevent me from travelling to Algiers based on the fact that my identity card mentions Tizi Ouzou as my place of residence," the paper quoted an unnamed person as saying.

Bouchachi said that authorities had clamped down on freedom of movement in a bid to limit the scope of the protest.

"The security services prevented people from coming to Algiers from the rest of the country, and they stopped the people who were in Algiers from marching," he told Al Jazeera.

Arrests

Three people have so far been arrested at May 1 Square, the focal point of protests, according to Elias Filali, a blogger who spoke to Al Jazeera.

Crowds were dispersed by police about two blocks from May 1 Square, where the anti-government protest was scheduled to start at 11:00 am, local time.

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Large numbers of police were mobilised to try to prevent Saturday's protest from going ahead. Dozens of police vans and military-style police armoured vehicles were dotted around the capital hours before the demonstration was supposed to begin.

The protesters split into two groups in a courtyard of a residential block, where they were surrounded by about 400 police in helmets and body protection.

A coalition of human rights groups, some trade unionists and a small opposition party are calling for weekly protest marches through the capital. The authorities have refused permission for the marches, citing public order concerns.

Unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy since it is a major oil and gas exporter, but analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to placate most grievances.

About 150 protesters held a protest last Saturday in May 1 Square, but others trying to join them were blocked by a large police presence. Algeria's biggest opposition forces are not taking part in the protest movement.

The CNCD wants the immediate end of the government of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria's president, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing and soaring costs that inspired uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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