Protesters brave riot police in Algerian capital

Posted By: Pti
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Algiers, Feb 19 (AFP) Riot police clashed withprotesters who tried to stage a rally in central Algierstoday, leaving one Algerian opposition deputy seriouslyinjured, his party said.

Tahar Besbes, of the Rally for Culture andDemocracy, was hit in the stomach by a policeman and hit hishead on the pavement when he fell, party spokesman MohsenBelabbas said.

Besbes, who earlier lost consciousness and wassuffering from multiple injuries, later woke up and wassleeping, said doctor Rafik Hassani of Mustapha hospital wherethe activist was being treated.

Another opposition leader, Rachid Malaoui, and aprotester in his sixties fainted when they were hemmed in by astrong police cordon before firefighters were able to evacuatethem, an AFP correspondent reported.

Some 200 protesters managed to get into May 1Square, where they chanted "Algeria free and democratic" and"People want the fall of the regime" as police blockadedadjacent streets with armoured vehicles.

Nine police units were deployed on the square, anofficial told AFP, with each unit comprising up to 120officers to handle the demonstration which, like many others,is banned in Algiers since 2001.

Wearing crash helmets and wielding truncheons,police pushed back handfuls of young protesters who shouted:"Free and democratic Algeria!", "Murderous leadership" and"The people want the regime''s end!"

A total of some 3,000 people amassed in the areaincluding protesters, police and onlookers.

Several, brandishing symbolic red cards against theregime, found themselves split up in small groups by police inadjoining streets, Hassani said.

When they tried to flee in the opposite direction,the protesters found themselves confronted by oncoming policewho charged at them, witnesses said.

A score of young pro-regime supporters arrived onthe scene holding pictures of President Abdelaziz Bouteflikaand shouting: "Police officers, let us pick a fight withthem!"

In a protest a week ago some 2,000 demonstratorssucceeded in gathering in the square but were prevented fromstarting a planned four-kilometre march to Martyrs Square.

The rally was organised by the NationalCoordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a month-oldumbrella group made up of the political opposition, theAlgerian human rights league and trade unions.

Algerian demonstrators have been emboldened byanti-government protests in neighbouring Tunisia and in Egyptthat ousted the leaders of both north African countries. (AFP)

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