Thousands of demonstrators marched in Algiers and other cities across the country on Monday, rekindling anti-regime protest in the streets on the second anniversary of the uprising and after a year of disruption due to the health crisis.
“God be praised, the people have woken up. We thought that people would be content with what the power has released, but now we will return to the marches before the Covid,” Hassan told AFP, a 28-year-old nurse.
The protesters made their way to the center of Algiers, despite an impressive police force, by deploying national and Amazigh (Berber) flags in front of the Grande Poste, the emblematic meeting place of the Hirak.
This is the most imposing procession in the capital since the stopping of the weekly marches on March 13, 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The police made several arrests, sometimes muscular, noted an AFP journalist. The National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD) reported nearly thirty people arrested in Algiers and about sixty throughout the country.
The last demonstrators dispersed peacefully at the end of the afternoon.
Some had come from other regions to march in Algiers but police roadblocks made access to the capital difficult.
– “Will for change” –
Among the slogans, the Hirakists sang: “We did not come to celebrate (the anniversary) but for you to leave”, in allusion to the political class.
In the provinces, marches took place in particular in Annaba, Oran, Béjaïa, Sétif, Bouira, Mostaganem, Constantine and Tizi Ouzou, according to images posted on social networks and testimonies collected by AFP.
“Moving images of Hirak through which Algerians show their unwavering desire to take political matters into their own hands, their deep desire for change, for freedom, for democracy,” said one Internet user, Amrane, on Twitter.
Launched on February 22, 2019, the Hirak, an unprecedented peaceful movement of popular protest, had pushed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power for two decades, to resign two months later after being released by the army.
Interrupted by the pandemic, the movement however continued to demand the dismantling of the “system” in place since independence in 1962, synonymous in its 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 have been satisfied “in record time” and today calls its supporters a “counter-revolutionary magma “.
The authorities have recovered the date of February 22 as “National Day of Brotherhood and People-Army Cohesion for Democracy”.
“The Hirak is resuming its peaceful revolution. Power commemorates it, via its media,” replied a surfer, Salim, on Twitter.
Algiers students, who traditionally marched every Tuesday before the marches were suspended, promised to come back “in force” to the streets this week.
– “Crush dissent” –
In a statement, Amnesty International criticized “a deliberate strategy by the Algerian authorities to crush dissent” over the past two years, despite the peaceful nature of the marches.
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, facing a triple political, economic and health crisis.
Thursday, the head of state 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 also proceeded Sunday to a reshuffle of the government, eagerly awaited but without major change.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, however criticized, remains in his post as well as the holders of sovereign ministries such as Justice with Belkacem Zeghmati, a symbol of the fight against corruption but also of judicial repression.
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 the political class is betting on the month of June.
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