12.02.2011 - Braving a massive police presence, thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Algerian capital of Algiers Saturday, defying an official ban on demonstrations and briefly forcing through a police cordon in the centre of the city.
Saturday’s protests came a day after Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak stepped down from office, thereby reinvigorating the long-planned for demonstration in Algiers.
Protesters held signs saying, “After Mubarak, it will be Bouteflika,” referring to the 74-year-old Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in office since 1999.
Skirmishes broke out between riot police preventing protesters from reaching central Algiers, reported FRANCE 24's Hani.
While police said about 800 protesters had taken to the streets, journalists and opposition members put the figure at 2,000.
Police presence turns Algiers into a ‘city of blue’
Security was tight ahead of the protests with police blocking access to the capital.
“Hassiba Ben Bouali Street, the main road leading to May 1 Square, is virtually under siege by policemen equipped with riot shields and batons,” said Hani. “Access to Algiers has been blocked with a heavy police presence on the roads linking the city with the rest of Algeria. Train services between central Algiers and the eastern and western suburbs have been cancelled.”
The Algerian capital famed for its luminous white walls had turned into a city of blue, said Hani, referring to the massive police presence. Opposition groups say 35,000 police officials had been deployed, including reinforcements that arrived from other parts of the country.
Saturday’s march was organised by an umbrella group of human rights activists, trade unionists, lawyers and political parties, including the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party.
Four senior RCD officials were arrested Saturday morning along with about 60 other members, according to RCD spokesman Mohsen Belabas.
Reporting from Algiers earlier Saturday, Hani said the RCD headquarters on the main Didouche Mourad Street had been “surrounded by police”