Demonstrators gather for pro-democracy marches in Algeria

Saturday, February 12, 2011

ALGIERS/PARIS - Security was tight in Algeria’s capital Algiers Saturday as demonstrators gathered for a pro-democracy march, a day after protesters in Egypt forced out their longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Large numbers of riot police had taken up positions along the route of the march, organised by the Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a newly-formed umbrella group of trade unions, human rights groups and left-wing parties.

Protesters were also planning a march in the second-largest city of Oran.

Both demonstrations have been in planning for over a week.

The local El Watan newspaper reported on its website that trains to Algiers had been suspended and buses grounded in an attempt to thwart people trying to get to the demonstration.

Police checkpoints had been erected across the city and armoured police vehicles were patrolling the streets, the paper reported.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is watching nervously as the uprisings that spectacularly toppled Tunisia’s and Egypt’s leaders threaten to reignite frustrations over widespread poverty and a lack of basic freedoms.

In January, Algeria experienced several days of rioting over rising food prices and unemployment, in which at least three people were killed and hundreds injured.

At least three more people have killed themselves by setting themselves on fire.

To appease critics of the government, Bouteflika said last week a 19-year-old state of emergency, put in place during a war between the state and Islamists in the 1990s, would be lifted “very soon”.

He also announced other reforms, including food price cuts, which the CNCD have termed insufficient.

On Friday evening, police in Algiers broke up a spontaneous demonstration by opposition members celebrating the fall of Mubarak.

At least ten protesters were injured, including two who were seriously injured, according to a representative of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD).

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