Algerian police squash pro-Egypt demonstration

Algerian police squash pro-Egypt demonstration

Euphoria over the success of Egypt's popular uprising put wind into the sails of the Algerian opposition, who launched a spontaneous demonstration late Friday and were promptly squelched by police.

At least ten protestors were injured, including two who were seriously injured, according to a representative of the Algerian opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD.)

Critics of Algeria's heavy-handed government were already planning to defy a government ban with massive demonstrations on Saturday against the authoritarian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, dpa reported.

But Egypt's Hosny Mubarak's resignation from his 30-year-long presidency after weeks of a popular uprising inspired the spontaneous demonstration by RCD.

"Mubarak is toppled. We hope Bouteflika is next," the protestors chanted.

Police arrested ten protestors, RCD spokesman Mohcine Belabbas told the German Press Agency dpa.

Many ordinary Algerians applauded Mubarak's departure.

A middle-aged healthcare worker in Algiers, who was on his way home from the shops, told dpa the news was "positive both for Egypt and Algeria."

"It will encourage the struggle for change here and give our leaders, who continue to ban demonstrations, something to think about," the man said.

Algeria's government is watching nervously as the uprisings that engulfed neighbouring Tunisia first, and then Egypt, threaten to spread to a country with a history of Islamic militancy.

A large mobilization of police in the capital Algiers and the second city of Oran was already in place by Friday ahead of Saturday's mass demonstration, according to El Watan, the Arabic- language daily. There were fears of a new round of violent clashes.

Saturday's protest has been called by the Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a newly-formed umbrella group of trade unions, human rights groups and left-wing parties demanding democratic reforms and the lifting of a 19-year-old state of emergency.

Opposition groups in Algeria are protesting the curtailment of civil liberties under the state of emergency, as well as high levels of unemployment and inequality.

Hundreds of buses and trucks carrying "thousands" of officers "armed to the teeth" have been stationed at points across Algiers, including outside the press centre and a hospital, El Watan reported. Barricades were being erected on roads leading to the city.

In January, Algeria experienced frequent days of rioting over rising food prices and unemployment, in which at least three people were killed and hundreds injured.

At least three more people have killed themselves by setting themselves on fire.

Bouteflika said last week the state of emergency would be lifted "very soon." He also announced other reforms, including food price cuts. The CNCD has dismissed those offers as falling short of their demands.

Analysts have warned that an uprising in Algeria could quickly become violent.

"If those in power resist a peaceful and democratic change in Algeria, there will be chaos and violence - even more so than in Tunisia and Egypt," Said Sadi, RCD chairman, told dpa earlier this week.

In the 1990s, the state fought a war against Islamic extremists, in which over 100,000 people were slaughtered.

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