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Algeria: Thousands take to the streets in protest

February 16, 2021

The Hirak movement, which ousted former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has been given a new breath of life after a year of coronavirus restrictions.

Thousands of people on the streets of Kherrata, many waving Algerian flags
The protests mark the one-year anniversary of the first Hirak protestsImage: Fateh Guidoum/AP Photo/picture alliance

Over 5,000 people gathered in the northern Algerian town of Kherrata on Tuesday to mark the two year anniversary of the Hirak protest movement that ousted the country's long term president from power in 2019.

Protesters gathered in the town where the movement originally began — 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of the capital Algiers — hoping to kick it off again a year after the coronavirus pandemic forced it off the streets.

"We came to revive the Hirak that was stopped for health reasons. They didn't stop us. We stopped because we care for our people. Today coronavirus is over and we will get the Hirak back," Nassima, a protester, told Reuters.

The protesters waved Algerian flags and chanted: "A civilian state, not a military state" and "The gang must go."

What is the Hirak movement?

The Hirak protests were successful in forcing the veteran former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to step down, but protests numbering in the tens of thousands continued.

Protesters fill a bridge in Algeria
Protesters called for "Freedom of the press and of expression"Image: Fateh Guidoum/AP Photo/picture alliance

They called for the complete removal of Algeria's political elite and dubbed the elections that followed Bouteflika's resignation a charade.

Abdelmadjid Tebboube, who was elected in the December 2019 vote, praised the Hirak movement, but failed to pass any major reforms.

Around 70 people are currently in prison for their connection to the Hirak protests, the CNLD prisoners' support group said.

Karim Tabbou, a prominent figure in the protests, who was given a one-year suspended sentence in December for "undermining national security" was also present in Kherrata.

What do the protesters want?

Hirak is a leaderless movement, but supporters have spent lockdown discussing online how to reinvigorate the protests while under Algeria's COVID-19 lockdown.

Smaller demonstrations have been taking place across the country in recent weeks in a build-up to the February 22 anniversary of the first nationwide protests.

"It is a revolutionary process for a very precise goal, which is the departure of the regime, the whole regime with all its components," another protester, Hamid, told Reuters.

The movement is seeking to overhaul the country's political system which has been in place since it gained independence from France in 1962.

ab/aw (Reuters, AFP)