Thousands of Algerians participated in a march in Algiers and other cities today to mark the second anniversary of the anti-government protest movement that ousted former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The protesters chanted “peace, freedom and democracy” and raised banners that read: “A civil state, not a military one.”
It is believed to be the largest popular gathering in Algeria since the Hirak protests were suspended in March of last year due to the spread of the Corona virus.
The protest movement forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled the country for nearly 20 years, to resign in April of 2019.
And police forces deployed heavily in the capital, Algiers, while helicopters flew over the city.
The protesters shouted: “We are not here to celebrate, but to demand your departure,” referring to a regime they see not very different from the one that Bouteflika led for two decades.
And on one of the placards held by the demonstrators, “The Decisive Hour for the People of Algeria” was written.
And the police checkpoints caused a traffic crisis in the city, as the security forces were keen to check the identities of citizens and arrested some of them.
The police also tried to prevent the protesters from gathering around the construction of the Central Post, which was the starting point for the popular protests that erupted in Algeria and a number of other cities on February 22, 2019, against Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term.
According to eyewitnesses and accounts reported by social media, the marches began today in a number of other cities in the country, including Annaba, Oran, Setif and Mostaganem.
Same old faces
Demonstrators continued their movement after Bouteflika’s resignation, calling for a comprehensive reform process of the regime prevailing since the French occupation left Algeria in 1962.
Demonstrations were suspended last March due to restrictions on the spread of the Corona virus, but calls to return to the streets spread on social media, starting today, Monday.
On the eve of the second anniversary of the movement, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was elected in December 2019 in the low-turnout elections boycotted by the protest movement, announced a limited government reshuffle. He also decided to dissolve Parliament and hold early legislative elections.
Among the ministers who retained their posts is Minister of Justice Belkacem Zeghmati, who is seen as a symbol of the judicial crackdown in Algeria that has affected protesters and opposition activists.
In a gesture of appeasement, Tebboune announced last Thursday a presidential pardon that included nearly 40 participants in the popular movement, including the political activist Rashid Nkaz and journalist Khaled Dararni.