Protesters brave riot police in Algerian capital
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Last Updated: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 00:36
Algiers: Riot police clashed with protesters who tried to stage a rally in central Algiers today, leaving one Algerian opposition deputy seriously injured, his party said.

Tahar Besbes, of the Rally for Culture and Democracy, was hit in the stomach by a policeman and hit his head on the pavement when he fell, party spokesman Mohsen Belabbas said.

Besbes, who earlier lost consciousness and was suffering from multiple injuries, later woke up and was sleeping, said doctor Rafik Hassani of Mustapha hospital where the activist was being treated.

Another opposition leader, Rachid Malaoui, and a protester in his sixties fainted when they were hemmed in by a strong police cordon before firefighters were able to evacuate them, an AFP correspondent reported.

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

Nine police units were deployed on the square, an official told AFP, with each unit comprising up to 120 officers 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 area including protesters, police and onlookers.

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

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

A score of young pro-regime supporters arrived on the scene holding pictures of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and shouting: "Police officers, let us pick a fight with them!"

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

The rally was organised by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a month-old umbrella group made up of the political opposition, the Algerian human rights league and trade unions.

Algerian demonstrators have been emboldened by anti-government protests in neighbouring Tunisia and in Egypt that ousted the leaders of both north African countries.


First Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 00:36

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