Algeria students return to streets in pro-democracy protest

AFP , Tuesday 9 Mar 2021

"We are protesting because we refuse (to accept) this system, we refuse its methods and we refuse to be divided," said Zakaria, a 27-year-old student

Students face police forces during a demonstration in Algiers, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Students resume their anti-regime Hirak movement in a bid to restart the weekly pro-democracy demonstrations AP

Hundreds of students and pro-democracy supporters demonstrated in Algiers Tuesday as a revived protest movement enters its third week of rallies.

The march made its way through the main streets of the Algerian capital to reach the central post office, AFP journalists said.

The site was an emblematic rallying point for the Hirak pro-democracy movement that began in February 2019 and within weeks forced then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to abandon a bid for a fifth term and resign.

Protesters chanted Hirak slogans calling for a "free and democratic Algeria" and "a civil not a military state" and booed President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

"The main demands of students are the departure of the 'system'; an independent justice system; and a free press that can report what the people say, and not what the system says," 25-year-old Ilyes told AFP.

A large banner at the head of the protest read, "The regime is dead and a corpse can't be resuscitated... Clear out!"

Hirak demands a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962 and seen as synonymous with authoritarianism and corruption.

"We are protesting because we refuse (to accept) this system, we refuse its methods and we refuse to be divided," said Zakaria, a 27-year-old student.

A considerable police deployment was lighter than in previous weeks.

Thousands marched in Algeria's capital and other cities on February 22 to mark the resurgent movement's second anniversary.

All public gatherings remain banned due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Before the health crisis brought regular Hirak demonstrations to a halt, students held their own weekly rallies on Tuesdays.

In a gesture of appeasement, Tebboune last month announced pardons for dozens of jailed pro-democracy activists, including several prominent figures.

But some courts continue to be heavy handed.

On Tuesday, activist Sami Dernouni, in custody in Tipaza, near Algiers, was sentenced to two years behind bars for inciting a gathering and undermining national unity and security, the CNLD prisoners' rights group said.

Once a premier under Bouteflika and elected in a widely boycotted presidential poll in December 2019, Tebboune has reached out to the protest movement while also seeking to neutralise it.

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