Algerian police break up crowd at pro-reform rally

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Algiers, Feb 19 (AP) Algerian police thwarted a rally bythousands of pro-democracy supporters today, breaking up thecrowd into isolated groups in a bid to keep them frommarching.

Police brandishing clubs, but no firearms, weaved theirway through the crowd in central Algiers, banging theirshields, tackling some protesters and keeping traffic flowingthrough the planned march route.

The gathering, organised by the Coordination forDemocratic Change in Algeria, comes a week after a similarprotest, which organisers said brought an estimated 10,000people and up to 26,000 riot police onto the streets ofAlgiers.

Officials put turnout at the previous rally at 1,500.

The new protest comes on the heels of uprisings inneighbouring Tunisia and Egypt that toppled those countries''autocratic leaders.

Police presence at today''s march was more discrete thanthe week before, when huge contingents of riot police weredeployed throughout the capital the night before the march.

Yesterday night, by contrast, the capital was calm, withpolice taking up their positions only today morning. Still, bybreaking up the crowd, the police managed to turn the plannedmarch into a chaotic rally of small groups.

That didn''t stop 92-year-old human rights advocate AliYahia Abdenour, of the Algerian League for the Defence ofHuman Rights. The frail man cried out, "We want democracy, thesovereignty of the people."

Another demonstrator, 23-year-old Khalifa Lahouazi, auniversity student from Tizi Ouzou, east of the capital, saidhe "came here to seek my legitimate rights.

"We''re living an insupportable life with this system,"said Lahouazi, a university student from Tizi Ouzou, in theKabylie region 60 miles (100 kilometres) east of Algiers.

"It''s the departure of the system, not just Bouteflika, thatwe want," he said, referring to President AbdelazizBouteflika.

The new march comes amid weeks of strikes and scatteredprotests in the North African country, which has promised tolift a 19-year state of emergency by month''s end in a nod tothe growing mass of disgruntled citizens.

University students and nurses are among those who haveheld intermittent strikes, joined by the unemployed. Even therichest region, around the gas fields of Hassi Messaoud, wasnot spared as around 500 jobless youths protested Wednesday,the daily El Watan reported. (AP)

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