Algeria protests under way

Demonstrations taking place in capital Algiers and city of Oran as protesters call for government to resign.

    Algerians, inspired by protests in neighbouring Tunisia, have been protesting against Bouteflika's regime [EPA]

    Hundreds of Algerians have turned out for anti-government protests in the capital Algiers, a week after thousands of demonstrators were confronted by 30,000 riot police at the same venue.

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

    The square has been blocked by more than a thousand police officers, equipped with riot gear, who are trying to divide protesters into smaller groups. Helicopters are also reported to be flying overhead.

    "The people have lost faith in this regime. This [protest] is a success because ... [protesters] have broken this barrier of fear," Filali said.

    El Watan, an Algerian daily newspaper, reported on Saturday that train services in the country had been shut down completely, and that authorities have set up road blocks on the highway that links Tizi-Ouzou, Boumerdes and Bejaia to the capital.

    The newspaper also reported that people from the eastern region of Kabylie, known for their involvement in previous uprisings, are not being allowed to travel to Algiers.

    May 1 Square was also the site of last week's rally. Saturday's protest was organised by the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD).

    The month-old umbrella group is  made up of the political opposition, the Algerian human rights league and trade unions.

    Mourad Medelci, Algeria's foreign minister, said the authorities had not received a formal request to authorise the protest in Algiers, where demonstrations have long been banned.

    "To my knowledge there was no request to march," Medelci said, speaking in Madrid, the Spanish capital.

    "Perhaps there was a will to do so but we are an administration which functions in a transparent manner and we respond when we are solicited."

    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.

    Another anti-government protest is scheduled to take place in the Mediterranean city of Oran, where - contrary to a week ago - local officials changed course and authorised it.

    Rising food prices led to five days of riots in Algeria last month that left three people dead.

    Bouteflika has promised to lift a 19-year state of emergency by month's end in a nod to the growing mass of disgruntled

    'Thorny problems'

    Posters against the demonstration sprouted on the walls of the capital on Friday night. "Don't march on my tranquility and my freedom," said one.

    Another, unsigned, appealed to residents of May 1 Square to fly an Algerian flag from their balconies "as a sign of love for their country".

    A group of youngsters there said they did not know the possible author but one said "it's certainly the people in power".

    Attacks on the government have widened to include criticism from Abdelhamid Mehri, a senior former leader of the Algerian regime, who on Thursday called for sweeping political changes in the north African country in an open letter to Bouteflika.

    Mehri, a former secretary general of the ruling National Liberation Front and government minister, accused the regime of being "incapable of solving the thorny problems of our country ... and even less so of preparing efficiently for the challenges of the future, which are even more arduous and serious".

    SOURCE: Agencies


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