Algerians hit streets on protest anniversary

ALGIERS: Thousands of Algerians marched on Monday in the capital and other cities to mark the second anniversary of the North African nation’s anti-government “Hirak” protest movement, journalists said.
The protest movement in April 2019 forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika into resigning, and Monday’s demonstration in Algiers is the largest since rallies were suspended in March last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Police were deployed in force in Algiers, with helicopters hovering overhead.
“We are not here to celebrate, but to demand your departure,” the protesters shouted, referring to a regime that they see as being little changed from the one headed for two decades by Bouteflika.
“The fateful hour has arrived,” read one banner brandished by demonstrators.
Security checkpoints created traffic jams across the city, with identity checks carried out around key flashpoints, with several arrests made.
Police tried to block protesters from gathering around the Grand Post Office, which was at the heart of the mass protests that kicked off in Algiers and several other cities on February 22, 2019 to oppose Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term.
Elsewhere in the country, marches were being held on Monday including in Annaba, Oran, Setif and Mostaganem, according to witnesses and accounts on social media.
Demonstrators kept up their action after Bouteflika’s resignation, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962. They only suspended marches last March due to coronavirus restrictions, but calls circulated on social media for a return to the streets from Monday.
On the eve of the anniversary, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 on a very low turnout in a poll boycotted by the protest movement, announced a limited government reshuffle, in a bid to head off renewed rallies.
The reshuffle saw few major changes by Tebboune, who was once a prime minister under Bouteflika.
Among those retained are Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, seen as a symbol of Algeria’s judicial crackdown on protesters and opposition activists.
Tebboune also signed a decree dissolving parliament, clearing the way for early elections, for which no date has yet been set. — AFP