ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Thousands of protesters marking the second anniversary of Algeria’s pro-democracy movement took to the streets Monday in the Algerian capital where a wall of security forces stepped aside to let marchers pass.
The protesters of the Hirak movement helped force long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in 2019. Scores of marchers were arrested, but after marching for 53 consecutive Fridays, it was a formal ban on demonstrations with the arrival of the coronavirus that forced protesters off the streets a year ago.
The reappearance of protesters came days after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in a conciliatory gesture, freed more than 30 jailed protesters, though dozens remain behind bars. The president also dissolved parliament to pave the way for new elections, among the demands of the Hirak movement.
“We didn’t come to celebrate but to set ourselves free,” was among the cries of marchers.
The activists are pressing for a full makeover of the opaque system governing Algeria, with the military in the shadows, which has been at the helm since Algeria won its independence war against France in 1962. The boldness of the protesters, defying the system, had caught authorities by surprise.
Protesters took to the streets in numerous other towns after a large demonstration Sunday in Bejaia, a coastal city east of Algiers.
Police blocked main streets in the center of Algiers early Monday before stepping onto sidewalks as marchers arrived. The stream of activists, men, women and children, filled the capital’s streets, recalling the height of the Hirak movement.
“Demonstrating is a right (in) our constitution, but because of COVID-19, special measures are needed,” Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum said on Algerian state radio, in apparent reference to the heavy security and the year-long halt to the marches.