Thousands of Algerians rally ahead of Hirak protests anniversary

AFP , Tuesday 16 Feb 2021

Algeria's government is facing multiple crises as the pandemic adds to the woes of an oil-dependent economy

People demonstrate in Kherrata, 300 km (190 miles) east of Algiers, Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021 AP

Thousands of Algerians rallied Tuesday in a northern town seen as the cradle of the "Hirak" protests which swept former strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power.

It was in Kherrata that major protests first broke out on February 16, 2019, against Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term.

The following week, mass rallies spread to Algiers and across the country in a months-long movement to demand sweeping reforms.

On Tuesday, demonstrators in Kherrata, 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Algiers, brandished Algerian and Berber flags and shouted slogans against the military and current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

"A civilian state, not military. Freedom of the press and of expression. An independent judiciary," read one banner.

Tuesday's rally was attended by prominent Hirak figures including Karim Tabbou, who was given a one-year suspended sentence in December for "undermining national security".

"The last bell has tolled for this corrupt system. We hope to build a new Algeria: human rights, freedoms and the rule of law," Tabbou told the crowd.

Around 70 people are currently in prison over links with the Hirak movement or other peaceful opposition political activity, according to the CNLD prisoners' support group.

The unprecedented protest movement, which demanded a sweeping overhaul of the ruling system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962, only suspended rallies in March last year as the novel coronavirus reached the North African country.

But recent weeks have seen renewed demonstrations in the build-up to the February 22 anniversary of the first nation-wide protests, particularly in the traditionally restive region of Kabylie.

The revival of demonstrations, banned due to the pandemic, won praise from some Algerians online, but others criticised protesters' failure to wear masks or respect social distancing measures.

Algeria's government is facing multiple crises as the pandemic adds to the woes of an oil-dependent economy.

Tebboune, elected on record low turnout in a December 2019 poll boycotted by the Hirak, spent a total of three months in Germany since October, receiving treatment for Covid-19 and ensuing complications.

Over the weekend he held consultations with several political parties, including the opposition, in preparation for local and legislative elections by the end of the year.

Tebboune is also reportedly preparing a government reshuffle after publicly expressing dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad's team.

Short link: