Friday, February 11, 2011

Algeria opposition to hold protest

Officials have banned march in Algiers, setting the stage for possible clashes between police and demonstrators.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2011 05:25 GMT
Many demonstrators in Algeria have been inspired by the events unfolding in Egypt and Tunisia [AFP]
Thousands of police in riot gear were in position in the centre of the Algerian capital to stop a planned pro-democracy demonstration that could mimic the uprising which forced out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Officials have banned Saturday's opposition march in Algiers, setting the stage for possible clashes between police and demonstrators.
Protesters are demanding greater democratic freedoms, a change of government, and more jobs. The demonstration was set to begin at 11:00 am (1000 GMT).
"We are ready for the march," said Mohsen Belabes, a spokesman for the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) opposition party, which is one of the organisers of the protest. "It's going to be a great day for democracy in Algeria."
Mubarak's resignation on Friday, and last month's overthrow of Tunisian leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, have electrified the Arab world.
Many are left wondering which country could be next in a region where a flammable mix of authoritarian rule and popular anger are the norm.
Police on alert
Said Sadi, head of the RCD, said earlier that he expected around 10,000 police officers were coming in to reinforce the 20,000 that blocked the last demonstration staged on January 22, when five people were killed and more than 800 hurt.
A heavy police presence is routine in Algeria to counter the threat of attacks by al Qaeda insurgents.
At May 1 Square, the starting point for the planned march, at least 15 police vans, jeeps and buses were lined up. A similar number were in a nearby side-street outside the city's Mustapha hospital.
At several road junctions, the police had parked small military-style armoured vehicles which are rarely seen in the city. Police standing outside a fuel station about 2 km from the square were wearing anti-riot body armour.
The latest rally is being organised by the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a three-week-old umbrella group of opposition parties, civil society movements and unofficial unions inspired by the mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
Demonstrators in the oil-rich nation have been protesting over the last few months against unemployment, high food costs, poor housing and corruption - similar issues that fuelled uprisings in other north African nations.
Earlier this month, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria's president, said he would lift emergency powers, address unemployment and allow democratic marches to take place in the country, in a bid to stave off unrest.
Wider implications
Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy because it is a major oil and gas exporter, but many analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to placate most grievances.
Meanwhile, in a statement, rights group Amnesty International said "Algerians must be allowed to express themselves freely and hold peaceful protests in Algiers and elsewhere".
"We urge the Algerian authorities not to respond to these demands by using excessive force."
The government said it refused permission for the rally for public order reasons, not because it is trying to stifle dissent. It said it is working hard to create jobs, build new homes and improve public services.
Other Arab countries have also felt the ripples from the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.
Jordan's King Abdullah replaced his prime minister after protests.
In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised opponents he would not seek a new term.
The Bahraini government has also made several concessions in recent weeks, including promising higher social spending. Activists there have called for protests on February 14, the tenth anniversary of Bahrain's constitution.

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