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Algerian police stifle pro-democracy protest march

posted 12 Feb 2011, 09:44 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 Feb 2011, 09:47 ]

Police in the Algerian capital scuffle with demonstrators inspired by Egypt's popular revolution.

ALGIERS, ALGERIA (FEBRUARY 12, 2011) REUTERS - Thousands of police in riot gear blocked off the centre of Algeria's capital on Saturday (February 12) and stopped government opponents from staging a protest march that sought to emulate Egypt's popular revolt.

Small groups of demonstrators angry at President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gathered in May 1 Square in the centre of Algiers shouting "Bouteflika out!".

They waved newspaper front pages reporting Friday's overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

But riot police hemmed them in, stopping them from carrying out a plan to march through the city. Other protesters trying to reach the square found their way blocked and at least one of the protest organisers was arrested.

After about three hours, hundreds of people left the square quietly, with police opening up gaps in their cordon to let them through. Some 200 young men from a poor neighbourhood nearby stayed on the square. Some threw objects at police.

Officials had banned Saturday's protest, citing public order concerns. A massive police mobilisation, which started on Friday afternoon, appeared to have stifled it.

The protest was not backed by the main trade unions or the biggest opposition parties.

Nearly all members of Algeria's radical Islamist groups, which were banned in the 1990s but still have grassroots influence, stayed away.

Mubarak's resignation and last month's overthrow of Tunisia's leader have electrified the Arab world and led many to ask which state could be next in a region where an explosive mix of authoritarian rule and popular anger is the norm.

Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy because it is a major oil and gas exporter. But many analysts say a revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to resolve most grievances.