Thousands of people demonstrated in central Algiers on Friday for a second time this week, confirming the resumption of street protests that had stopped for nearly a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters were met by security forces who used truncheons and fired tear gas when a crowd forced its way through a police barrier to reach the Grand Post Office, the main Algiers rallying point for the anti-government Hirak movement, footage posted on the Interlignes news site showed.
Weekly street protests that began in February 2019 prompted the army to force former veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in the biggest shock to Algeria’s political system in decades, stopping only for a COVID-19 lockdown in March last year.
The Hirak protesters are demanding a complete overhaul of the old ruling elite, an end to corruption and the army’s withdrawal from politics.
Marchers chanted “peaceful, peaceful” and “our demands are legitimate” on Friday as they walked through the city centre amid a large police presence.
“We are still able to achieve all our goals,” said Farida Rechichi, a 25-year old student at the Algiers law faculty.
“Neither Islamist nor secular, but Hirakist,” read a banner carried by protesters.
Police vans took up positions near main squares in the city centre and roadblocks were set up on several major roads leading into the capital.
While thousands of people took part in Friday’s march, however, the numbers were smaller than those involved in the protests before the lockdown last year, when tens of thousands regularly took part.
Rallies were also held in some provinces, including in northeastern Kabylie and northwestern Oran, where a prominent human rights activist, academic Kaddour Chouicha, was arrested, according to prisoners’ rights group CNLD.
A first protest after the lockdown took place last week in the eastern town of Kherrata. The first protest to take place again in Algiers was on Monday.