Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

Thousands of Algerians on the streets for protest movement's first anniversary

Police used water cannon against protesters as they marched towards the presidential palace in Algiers

Algerian riot police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators who on Saturday marked the first anniversary of a protest movement that seeks an overhaul of the country's political system.

Several thousand people gathered in the capital Algiers shouting "the people want the fall of the regime" and "we have come to get rid of you", referring to the country's rulers.

The message "no to military power, civil not military state" was written on one banner, referring to the authority exercised by the army's high command since independence from France in 1962.

But when demonstrators tried to march towards the presidential palace, anti-riot police used water cannons to push them back towards the starting point for the rally.

The protest was dispersed by police in the late afternoon and a few people were briefly detained.

Mass protests first erupted on February 22 last year, in response to and announcement by president Abdelaziz Bouteflika that he intended a run for a fifth term, despite being debilitated by a stroke in 2013.

Less than six weeks later, he stepped down after losing the support of the army chief at the time, in the face of enormous weekly demonstrations.

Diplomats said millions of people turned out after Mr Bouteflika's fall from power to demand an overhaul of the entire system, but the military maintained a political stranglehold in the months that followed.

There was a heavy police presence around the post office in central Algiers on Saturday, as people responded to calls on social media to celebrate the first anniversary of the "Hirak" protest movement.

On Friday, the 53rd straight weekly demonstration was held, with citizens flooding the streets of Algiers and numerous other cities across the country.

Even though the unprecedented movement has thinned in numbers since December, protesters still turn out in droves on a weekly basis.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika who was elected in December, recently claimed "things are starting to calm" in the streets and that "the Hirak got almost everything it wanted".

Updated: February 23, 2020 10:53 AM

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