Algeria: Several thousand protesters defy metro’s closure and trains’ cancellations, fill Algiers’ streets to call for overhaul of political system on independence anniversary.
Demonstrators converged on Algiers in their thousands for a massive anti-government rally called to coincide with official celebrations of the anniversary of the war that won Algeria’s independence from France.
Several thousand protesters had gathered at the Grande Poste building in downtown Algiers by early afternoon.
“Algeria will take back its independence” and “The people want their independence”, protesters chanted, already numbering more than have been turning out weekly at the same time for 37 consecutive Fridays.
Algerian social media was flooded with calls to fill the streets of the capital on Friday to mark the 65th anniversary of the start of the independence war in 1954 and demand a “new revolution”.
Police were deployed in force, blocking protesters on an avenue near the Grande Poste and making several arrests in the morning, according to witnesses. The Algiers metro was closed and all trains to the capital cancelled, apparently to keep numbers down.
Weekly demonstrations have taken place in Algiers and other parts of the country since February 22, forcing longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign at the beginning of April.
But demonstrations have not waned, instead turning their attention on the whole regime and ramping up calls for an overhaul of the political system in place since 1962.
November 1 is a national holiday in Algeria to commemorate the start of the war that led to the North African country’s independence after 132 years of French colonial rule.
Calls to join protests on Friday have drawn parallels between the fight for independence launched on November 1, 1954 and the current demonstrations.
“History is repeating itself,” one flier reads. “November 1, 1954-2019. The 48 provinces in the capital to remember the start of the glorious liberation revolution.”
“This concerns everyone. Call the Algerian people to come out, to march and storm the capital by the millions, from all provinces, on Friday, November 1, until all the crooks are brought down,” says another.
The call appeared to have been answered on Thursday, with reports of massive traffic jams at the entrances to the capital, attributed to the influx of protesters into Algiers and numerous police roadblocks.
“Closing off Algiers will do nothing, France did it before and it did not stop the revolution,” one Twitter user Kamal Cherif posted.
“A huge influx of protesters is coming to Algiers. They are coming by road, despite the slowed traffic, by train, by air and even on foot,” reported the French-language news site Interlignes.
On Thursday night, protesters gathered in Algiers before being dispersed by the police, who made several arrests, Algerian journalists reported.
In recent days, many Algerians have also responded to a “challenge” online under the hashtag #I_am_part_of_Hirak, as the movement has been dubbed.
They filmed themselves, alone or in groups, saying simply: “I am Algerian and I am part of Hirak” (protest movement).
Despite fierce opposition from the streets, authorities push forward with presidential elections set for December 12.
Activists are demanding sweeping reforms in the oil-rich country before any vote takes place, and say Bouteflika-era figures still in power must not use the presidential poll to appoint his successor.
On Wednesday, powerful army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has led the push for presidential polls by the end of 2019, said the election had the “full support” of the Algerian people, despite the slogan “no vote!” resonating every week at protests.
Algerians have also been angered by remarks by interim president Abdelkader Bensalah telling Russian President Vladimir Putin that the size of the protests was being “exaggerated”.
Footage of the comments broadcast on RT television has gone viral on social media with Algerians saying they felt “humiliated” by Bensalah’s comments.