Algerian pro-democracy protesters hit streets

Algiers, AlgeriaUpdated: May 08, 2021, 08:54 AM IST

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest ( Representative Image) Photograph:(Reuters)

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Protesters changed route for the first time since marches resumed in February in order to avoid police roadblocks

Thousands protested in Algiers Friday during a weekly demonstration of the Hirak pro-democracy movement despite a heavy police presence, AFP correspondents said. 

Protesters changed route for the first time since marches resumed in February in order to avoid police roadblocks. 

"Whatever you do, we will not stop," protesters shouted, addressing a massive police presence in the centre of the capital. 

Some held pictures of prisoners of conscience -- opposition and Hirak activists -- demanding their release. 

"Repression only strengthens the will to fight and cements the solidarity of those subjected to it," other signs read.  

The CNLD prisoners' rights group says over 70 people are currently imprisoned in connection to the Hirak or cases related to freedom of expression, and that some detainees have begun hunger strikes to protest their conditions. 

Police used force to break up last Friday's rally in Algiers and made several arrests. Most of those detained have since been released. 

Amnesty International on Friday called on Algerian authorities to "allow for peaceful protests without resorting to force and other punitive measures unnecessarily".  

"All those detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly must be immediately and unconditionally released and have all charges against them dropped," said Amna Guellali, Amnesty's regional deputy director. 

"The police forces' heavy-handed response to brave protesters taking part in the Hirak movement exemplifies why people across Algeria are calling for political reform," she added in a statement. "The use of unlawful force and arbitrary detentions is unacceptable."

The Hirak protest movement was sparked over president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office. 

The ailing autocrat was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak has continued its demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962. 

Marches were suspended for around a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but protesters have returned to the streets since February as the movement regains momentum.