Thousands of demonstrators marched Monday, February 22 in Algiers, and other rallies took place in the country, for the second anniversary of Hirak, a popular movement which is trying to revive after a year of interruption due to the health crisis.
This is the most imposing procession in the capital since the suspension of the Hirak marches in mid-March 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to AFP journalists.
“We did not come to celebrate (the 2nd anniversary of the Hirak), but to demand your departure,” chanted the protesters, referring to the regime they have opposed for two years.
“The fateful hour has struck”, one could read on a sign in Algiers.
Police checkpoints have been set up on several roads leading to the capital and an impressive police force has been deployed in the city center.
Despite this arrangement, protesters began to gather at midday.
The police, who tried to prevent them from advancing towards the Grande Poste, the emblematic meeting place of Hirak, proceeded to arrests, sometimes forceful.
In the provinces, marches took place, in particular in Annaba, Oran, Béjaïa, Sétif, Bouira, Mostaganem, Constantine and Tizi Ouzou, according to social networks and testimonies collected by AFP.
In order to avoid traffic jams, some Algerians went out at dawn to go to work.
“I came from Hamadi (east of Algiers). I had to start at five in the morning. Two and a half hours of traffic jam to get to the center because of the roadblocks. They check every car,” he said. explained Hamid, a 54-year-old civil servant.
As for Fatma Zohra, a 50-year-old suburban woman, she spent the night with her sister in Algiers to “avoid (being) stuck for hours”. Her other sister “took a day off”.
Launched on February 22, 2019, the Hirak, an unprecedented popular protest movement, had pushed Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power for two decades, to resign two months later.
This peaceful movement had to suspend its weekly demonstrations in March 2020 due to the coronavirus epidemic.
But he continues to demand the dismantling of the “system” in place since independence in 1962, synonymous in his eyes with authoritarianism and corruption.
If the regime – President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in the lead – regularly pays homage to the “authentic blessed Hirak”, it considers that its demands are now satisfied, qualifying its supporters today as “counter-revolutionary magma”.
In recent interviews, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer said the Algerian state had “satisfied (Hirak’s) legitimate demands in record time” and warned against calls to take to the streets.
This anniversary comes the day after a series of decisions by President Tebboune, who is trying to regain the initiative, after a long hospitalization in Germany, in the face of a triple crisis – political, economic and health.
Thursday, Mr. Tebboune decreed a pardon in favor of sixty prisoners of conscience, in a gesture of appeasement.
Since then, nearly 40 prisoners have been released, including the opponent Rachid Nekkaz and the journalist Khaled Drareni, who has become a symbol of the fight for press freedom.
As promised, Mr. Tebboune proceeded Sunday to a government reshuffle, eagerly awaited but without major change.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, however criticized, remains in his post as well as the holders of sovereign ministries. This is the case of the Minister of Justice, Belkacem Zeghmati, a symbol of the fight against corruption but also of judicial repression.
Before flying to Berlin at the beginning of January to seek treatment for post-Covid “complications”, Mr. Tebboune publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the action of the Djerad government.
Mr. Tebboune also dissolved Sunday the National Assembly, lower house of Parliament, paving the way for early legislative elections within six months. No date has yet been set for the poll, but June is mentioned.
“The reshuffle does not concern me, it is the same pawns. It is the same for the Parliament, the new (deputies) will work like the current regime for their own interests. (…) Not for the people”, 33-year-old activist Zaki Hannache told AFP.
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