By Lisa Bryant
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Algeria’s capital and other main cities demanding the government’s ouster, mirroring protests in fellow North African countries Egypt and Tunisia.
A day after pro-democracy protesters drove Egypt’s longtime leader Hosni Mubarak from power, Algerians were in the streets demanding their own President Abdelaziz Bouteflika leave office.
Protesters chanting, “No to the police state!” and “Bouteflika out!”. News reports say crowds were in the thousands but far out numbered by riot police.
Protests also took place in other cities, including the Mediterranean hub of Oran, also against government orders.
In the capital city, demonstrators skirmished with the riot police. Journalists on the scene reported several arrests.
One protester told France-Info radio he was afraid, but he was on the street anyway so he and his children could live in liberty. The power may not fall right away, he said, but it will fall eventually.
Saturday’s protests were organized by a new umbrella group, the National Coalition for Change and Democracy. But they have not been backed by Algeria’s main trade unions or banned Islamist groups.
Many of the same ingredients fueling the Tunisian and Egyptian protests are also present in Algeria – high unemployment, a growing gap between rich and poor and a large and restless youth population.
In January, riots sparked by high prices and unemployment killed at least five people and injured hundreds. At least four Algerians have also died from self-immolation, apparently inspired by a similar act in Tunisia that unleashed protests that eventually toppled the Tunisian government.