Thousands hit Algiers streets for protest movement's 1st anniversary

Thousands hit Algiers streets for protest movement's 1st anniversary
2 min read
23 February, 2020
Algerian protesters turned out for the 53rd week in a row.
The 'Hirak' movement forced the resignation of longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika [Getty]
Algerian riot police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators who on Saturday marked the first anniversary of the mass protest movement that forced the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and continues to seek  a complete overhaul of the political system.

Several thousand people gathered in the capital Algiers shouting "the people want the fall of the regime" and "we have come to get rid of you",  referring to the country's rulers.

"No to military power, civil not military state" was written on one banner, referring to the authority exercised by the army's high command since independence from France in 1962.

But when demonstrators tried to march towards the presidential palace, anti-riot police used water cannons to push them back towards the main post office - the starting point for the rally - AFP reporters said.

The protest was dispersed by police in the late afternoon and a few people were briefly detained before being released.

Mass protests first erupted on February 22 last year, in response to Bouteflika announcing he intended a run for a fifth term as president - despite being debilitated by a 2013 stroke.

Less than six weeks later, he stepped down after losing the support of the then-army chief in the face of enormous weekly demonstrations.

Despite hordes - diplomats said "millions" - then turning out after Bouteflika's fall to demand an overhaul of the entire system, the military maintained a political stranglehold in the months that followed.

Police had deployed heavily around the post office in central Algiers on Saturday, as people responded to calls on social media to celebrate the first anniversary of the "Hirak" protest movement.

Police prevent protesters from reaching the presidential palace in Algiers [Getty]

Friday had seen the 53rd straight weekly demonstration, with citizens flooding the streets of Algiers and numerous other cities across the country.

Even as the unprecedented movement has thinned in numbers since December, protesters still turn out in droves on a weekly basis.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune - a former prime minister under Bouteflika who was elected in December in a contentious election boycotted by many - had recently claimed that "things are starting to calm" in the streets and that "the Hirak got almost everything it wanted".

A former prime minister under Bouteflika, Tebboune was elected in December in a highly contentious vote boycotted by many Algerians.

Critics claim the military rushed a presidential election in order to keep its grip on power and sustain the ruling elite, of which they accuse Tebboune of being a part.

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