Thousands march through Algiers on anniversary of Hirak protests
The nation press services
2021-02-23 | Since 2 Month
ALGIERS: Thousands of Algerians marched through Algiers and other cities on Monday to mark the second anniversary of the Hirak protests that forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power. Protesters urged the removal of a new government they see as little different from the one Bouteflika led for two decades. “We are not here to celebrate, but to demand your departure,” they chanted. “The fateful hour has arrived,” read one banner brandished by demonstrators, while others waved Algerian and Berber flags. The mass rally in Algiers was the largest since weekly Hirak demonstrations were suspended in March last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Police were deployed in force in the capital, where they set up security checkpoints and carried out identity checks around key flashpoints while helicopters hovered overhead. At least 59 people were arrested across the country, including 26 in Algiers. Police tried to block protesters from gathering around the Grand Post Office, which was at the heart of the mass protests that began in Algiers and other cities on Feb. 22, 2019, to oppose Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term. The main demands of the leaderless, unorganised Hirak protests were the ousting of Algeria's old ruling elite, an end to corruption and the army’s withdrawal from politics. After Bouteflika was ousted, the authorities held a presidential election that Hirak supporters viewed as a sham and which resulted in Abdelmadjid Tebboune winning the presidency in December 2019.
Many of Monday’s demonstrators want a more thorough change. “We will stick to our principles until all demands are met,” said Mohamed Tadjer, 30, an employee of Algeria's state insurance company. “Things must change. We are fed up,” said Ahmed Kachime, 25, a student. Tebboune returned to Algeria last week after spending most of the past four months in Germany receiving medical treatment after contracting COVID-19. On the eve of the anniversary, he carried out a limited government reshuffle, in a bid to head off renewed rallies. But there were few significant changes, and amongthose retained were Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, who is seen as a symbol of Algeria’s judicial crackdown on protesters and opposition activists. Zaki Hannache, a 33-year-old activist, said Hirak supporters were unimpressed by the president’s reshuffle and his call for early elections. “The reshuffle doesn’t interest me, it’s the same old people,” he said. "Same thing with parliament, the new members will work, like the current regime, for their own interests, not for the people.”