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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Thousands of Algerians rally ahead of Hirak protests anniversary

Tuesday's thousands-strong rally was attended by prominent Hirak figures including Karim Tabbou [NurPhoto]

Date of publication: 16 February, 2021

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Demonstrators shouted slogans against the military and the current president in the massive rally in Kherrata, where Hirak protests first broke out in 2019.

Several thousand Algerians rallied in a northern town Tuesday, almost two years since the start of the "Hirak" protests which swept former strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power.

Demonstrators brandished Algerian and Berber flags and shouted slogans against the military and current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in the rally in Kherrata, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of the capital Algiers.

"A civilian state, not military. Freedom of the press and of expression. An independent judiciary," read one banner.

It was in Kherrata that major protests first broke out on February 16, 2019, against Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term. The following week, mass rallies spread to Algiers and across the country in a months-long movement to demand sweeping reforms.

Tuesday's rally was attended by prominent Hirak figures including Karim Tabbou, who was given a one-year suspended sentence in December for "undermining national security".

Read more:  Algeria opposition activist gets one-year suspended sentence

Around 70 people are currently in prison over links with the Hirak movement or other peaceful opposition political activity, according to the CNLD prisoners' support group.

The unprecedented protest movement, which demanded a sweeping overhaul of the ruling system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962, only suspended rallies in March last year as the coronavirus pandemic reached the North African country.

But recent weeks have seen renewed demonstrations in the build-up to the February 22 anniversary of the first nation-wide protests, particularly in the traditionally restive region of Kabylie.

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