ALGIERS, (AFP) — Algerian police and pro-government activists on Saturday foiled a sixth attempt by opposition protesters to march in the capital Algiers.
A faction of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD) had called the protest in three different parts of the city for 11:00 am (1000 GMT) in defiance of an official ban on demonstrating in Algiers.
But several dozen demonstrators found themselves quickly surrounded by police.
Counter-demonstrators carrying photos of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika chanted “Bouteflika Is Not (Hosni) Mubarak” — the Egyptian president forced out by a popular uprising on February 18 — as they chased and roughed up the anti-government protestors.
The counter-demonstrators, mostly young people, then turned on Said Sadi, a member of the CNCD and the head of the small opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), saying they would “lynch” him, according to an eyewitness, adding that Sadi fled the scene after shouting: “We will continue to march regardless of the steps the regime takes to prevent us.”
Saturday’s foiled protest was the sixth attempt since January 22.
The would-be demonstrators initially faced lightly equipped police but officers wearing helmets and carrying clubs and tear gas arrived to seal off the area and disperse the protest.
Sadi told AFP by telephone that his attackers had “knifed him, but it wasn’t serious.” Police told AFP they had received no complaint.
In the Hussein Dey district, opposite the courthouse, around 10 demonstrators arrived an hour before the planned march, among them two RCD parliamentarians and Ali Yahia Abdennour, 90 year-old honorary president of the Algerian Human Rights Defence League (LADDH), and were isolated by security agents.
West of Algiers, at Ain Benian, barriers were set up Saturday morning to prevent pedestrian access and armoured vehicles and a large detachment of helmeted police kept the area under observation, though witnesses said nothing took place.
Sadi accused the authorities of having banned marches outside Algiers although in recent days they had always said the prohibition applied only to the capital. He said a march in Batna, 430 kilometres (270 miles) southeast of Algiers) had been banned Saturday.
In the major western city of Oran a planned march was banned. Around 100 people were arrested, among them the CNCD local representative Kaddour Chouicha and some 10 reporters, one of them said. They were later freed.
The CNCD was set up on January 21 after riots at the start of the year left five dead and 800 injured. It later split between supporters of street protests and civil society groups and independent trade unions who wanted to work in the background.
“History is speeding up and is going to shake up all Arab countries,” Ali Yahai told reporters.
“It is just a question of time for Algeria. If they let us march, the people would march with us.”
The CNCD has said it wants the immediate end of Bouteflika’s regime, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing and soaring costs that inspired the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Bouteflika, 73, promised on February 24 to place “anti-corruption” at the heart of government action, along with reforms to help the economy, employment and housing to regain Algerians’ support.