Pro-democracy protesters defying a ban on demonstrations scuffled with riot police in Algiers, the capital city of Algeria on Saturday. Opposition figures in Algeria told Reuters that about 2000 people protested in the center of Algiers, and 800 people were arrested. Some anti-government activists made it thorough police cordons to make it to May First Square in the center of the city.
There has been a growing protest movement in Algeria against unemployment, rising food prices, lack for freedoms and the twelve year rule of 74 year old President Abdelaziz Botuefilka. Algeria has been under a state of emergency under which demonstrations have been banned since 1992 when the military canceled free elections and sparked a brutal civil war. They have also taken inspiration from the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
Last week the President announced that he would lift the state of emergency "in the very near future". Protesters are not satisfied with that promise. They are calling for an immediate end to the state of siege and for Bouteflika to step down. Fodil Boumala, a writer and member of the CNCD (National Coordination for Change and Democracy) the umbrella group organizing Saturday’s demonstration, told France24 that the purpose of the march was to achieve “a rupture, the departure of the current government and the establishment of genuine democracy”.
Saturday protesters held signs saying “After Mubarak, it will be Bouteflika” and chanted “Free and democratic Algeria.” This march was organized by a coalition of human rights activists, trade unionists, lawyers and political parties, including the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party. 64 RCD members were among those arrested, including four senior RCD officials. Earlier Saturday, the RCD headquarters on the main Didouche Mourad Street had been “surrounded by police”. The security forces were so on edge that they charge at and arrested 10 people that were having a spontaneous celebration of Mubarak's downfall outside of RCD Party headquarters RCD leader Said Sadi told the AFP.
Blogger and activist Elias Filali told Al Jazeera that "People are being arrested and are heavily guarded by the police." Filali said the protesters were determined to remain peaceful, but that the police "want the crowd to go violent and then get them portrayed as a violent crowd". The security forces turn Algiers into a "city of blue" with police blocking access to the capital. 35,000 police were deployed according to opposition groups. They even brought in police from other areas.
Hundreds also gathered in the historic Place de la République in Paris Saturday to show solidarity with the protesters in Algeria They called for a "Free and democratic Algeria" and held signs demanding that Bouteflika “Get out!.” From the bed of a truck, people were invited to speak on a megaphone, while others danced and chanted to the music blaring over the PA. Egyptian and Tunisian flags flew along side the emblematic green, white and red flag of Algeria in a proud show of Arab solidarity.