Algeria police stifle Egypt-inspired protest

About 50 people shouted anti-government slogans in a square in Algeria's capital today but were encircled by hundreds of police determined to stamp out any attempt to stage an Egypt-style revolt.

Government opponents called for a mass protest march to demand democratic change and jobs, but most local residents stayed away and thousands of police in riot gear were moved to the capital to enforce a ban on the march.



"I am sorry to say the government has deployed a huge force to prevent a peaceful march. This is not good for Algeria's image," said Mustafa Bouchachi, a leader of the League for Human Rights which is helping organise the protest.



The protest was not backed by the main trade unions, the biggest opposition parties or the radical Islamist groups that were banned in the early 1990s but still have grassroots influence.



The small knot of protesters on May 1 Square, near the centre of the city, shouted "Bouteflika Out!" - a reference to the Algerian president - and some waved copies of a newspaper front page with the headline "Mubarak has fallen!"



The resignation yesterday of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and last month's overthrow of Tunisia's leader, have electrified the Arab world and led many to ask which country could be next in a region where an explosive mix of authoritarian rule and popular anger is the norm.



Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy because it is a major oil and gas exporter. But many analysts say a revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to resolve most grievances.



A handful of protesters arrived at the May 1 Square two hours before the march was due to start, but police arrested some and surrounded the rest. One organiser, Fodil Boumala, sent Reuters a text message saying he was being held in a local police station.



A small counter-protest started up nearby, with people chanting "We want peace not chaos!" and "Algeria is not Egypt!"





A police helicopter hovered over the neighbourhood and about 200 officers in helmets and armed with batons were at the square. Dozens of police vehicles were parked nearby.



About 20 firefighters were on stand-by to douse anyone who tried to set themselves on fire. Tunisia's revolt began after Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself on Dec. 17 in protest at the government, and several Algerians have since copied him.



Thousands more police were on stand-by elsewhere in Algiers, a city of densely packed whitewashed buildings on a steep hillside sloping down to the Mediterranean Sea.



Protest organisers - who say they are inspired partly by events in Egypt and Tunisia - said police were turning people away before they could reach the march, or parallel protests planned for other cities.



Near Kennedy Square, about 3 km (1.8 miles) from the centre, police outnumbered local residents. They milled around in riot gear, drinking coffee, smoking and reading newspapers.



Other Arab countries have also felt the ripples from the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. Jordan's King Abdullah replaced his prime minister after protests and in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised opponents he would not seek a new term.



"Algerians must be allowed to express themselves freely and hold peaceful protests in Algiers and elsewhere," the rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.



The government says it refused permission for the rally for public order reasons, not because it is trying to stifle dissent. It says it is working hard to create jobs and build new homes, and has promised more democratic freedoms.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us