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Algerians Demands Democratic Rule, Defy Protest Ban, Clash with Police

Algiers Police Crack Down as Opposition Defies Protest Ban

France 24: 22/01/2011 

By Joseph BAMAT (text)  

Police broke up an opposition march calling for democracy in the Algerian capital on Saturday, with troops out in force and streets barricaded to prevent protests in the wake of a popular revolt that toppled the president in neighbouring Tunisia.

Algeria’s capital awoke to a virtual state of siege on Saturday, with a heavy police presence and many streets blocked in order to prevent protesters from reaching the May 1 Square, where opposition groups planned to stage a pro-democracy march.

The opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) planned to defy a 19-year-old ban against marches in Algiers, despite warnings from the authorities and in the wake of a popular revolt that overthrew neighbouring Tunisia's long-time president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali only a week ago.

“The atmosphere is very tense,” said Fayçal Mataoui, a political journalist with the independent Algerian daily el Watan. “Some buses headed into the city were forced to turn back, especially those coming from [the eastern] Kabyle region. The opposition’s headquarters are blocked off, and people are struggling to get out of their homes.”

Pro-democracy group makes call to protest in Algeria Report by Ahmed Tazir, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Algiers

According to Ahmed Tazir, FRANCE 24's correspondent in Algiers, a handful of protesters clashed with police close to the RCD's headquarters and around 10 people were wounded. Several people were arrested, including one RDC member of parliament, who was later released, Tazir added.

The RCD said the march was organised to demand the release of people arrested during previous demonstrations, lift the existing state of emergency, restore the individual and collective liberties guaranteed by the constitution and dissolve the government it claims was elected through fraud.

Demonstrations are banned in Algeria because of a state of emergency in place since 1992, when the government was fighting an Islamist insurgency.

On Friday, city officials warned residents of Algiers against joining the march, which was scheduled to start at 11am at the May 1 square and end at the Parliament building.

"Citizens are asked to show wisdom and vigilance and not respond to possible provocation aimed at disturbing their tranquillity, peace of mind and serenity," the Algiers administration told state news agency APS.

In a statement it insisted that public gatherings were “considered a breach of public order".

Speaking to FRANCE 24, RCD chairman Said Saadi said some 15,000 Algerian security forces had been deployed in the capital. “This is not simply a political crisis,” Saadi said, “We have reached a historical impasse.”

Fears of more Tunisia-style unrest

Opposition groups in Algeria have closely monitored the popular revolt that overthrew Tunisia’s Ben Ali and continues to call for the departure of his old guard.

TUNISIA Copycat effect: How one man's self-immolation engulfed a region

The country shares a 960-kilometre border with Tunisia and has had the same president for the past 12 years.

The revolution in Tunisia was set off by the self-immolation and death of a desperate street vendor.

 In copycat fashion, Algeria has seen at least seven immolation attempts over the past few days, plus its own isolated violent outbursts and peaceful demonstrations.

A small pro-democracy gathering in Algiers earlier this week startled residents and led to a handful of arrests. “At the police station the first question I was asked was whether we supported the unrest in Tunisia. For the authorities, our march is a call to violence,” said Sofia Djama, an Algerian filmmaker who participated in the demonstration.

According to Sorbonne scholar Burhan Ghalioun, who predicted Ben Ali’s fall, Algeria like Tunisia can no longer maintain a dysfunctional political and economic system under the guise of its war against Islamic terrorism.

The RDC’s Saadi, was also quick to draw a parallel between the situation in the two countries and the potential consequences: “If we cannot set off a peaceful process towards a transitional phase, the violence will be much more devastating in Algeria than it was in Tunisia.”

TUNISIA 'Tunisia will be a spark provoking similar revolts'

EGYPT Arab leaders meet in wake of Tunisia crisis

TUNISIA Copycat effect: How one man's self-immolation engulfed a region

Copycat effect: How one man's self-immolation engulfed a region

How and why did one Tunisian vendor's self-immolation spark a chain of events that ultimately toppled a regime, led to a rash of copycat suicide attempts and spread panic across the region?

By Nicholas RUSHWORTH (video)

Leela JACINTO (text)  

It all began on Dec. 17, 2010, on the streets of the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid, when an impoverished street vendor, confronting the sheer hopelessness of his situation, set himself ablaze. Within weeks, a once seemingly indestructible regime was toppled and the fire of copycat self-immolation attempts appeared to engulf the region.

In Egypt, one of at least two men who set themselves on fire in recent days succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday. In Mauritania, a 42-year-old businessman alerted journalists before dousing himself with a flammable liquid and setting himself ablaze in a car parked outside the Senate.

In Algeria - a country that shares a 960-kilometer border with Tunisia and has had the same president for the past 12 years - there have been at least seven immolation attempts over the past few days. Algerian officials have occasionally tried to play down some of the cases as isolated incidents involving mentally-ill people. But few Algerians buy that argument.

TUNISIA Trouble in paradise: How one vendor unmasked the 'economic miracle'

When Tunisian vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire, he was in effect declaring his frustration over his inability to earn a living in a country beset with high unemployment rates, soaring prices, growing income inequalities and crippling political repression.

These are conditions that have plagued several neighbouring Arab nations over the past few years. But outside academic and policy circles, few were paying much attention.

Suddenly, that has all changed.

While Bouazizi’s suicide succeeded in ultimately ousting Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year-old regime, the rash of copycat attempts has rattled hereditary or dubiously elected leaders across the Arab world.

At an Arab League meeting in Egypt on Wednesday, the 20-member body committed to a proposed $2 billion program to boost faltering economies region as Arab League chief Amr Moussa’s warned that “the Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession”.

‘Burning monk’ highlights religious repression

Self-immolations may be brutal and horrific, but they’re also a startlingly effective form of public protest.

One of the world’s most iconic images of a public self-immolation is a June 1963 photograph of a Buddhist monk seated in a lotus position on a Saigon street engulfed in flames.

Taken at the height of the Vietnam War by Pulitzer Prize-winning US photographer Malcolm Browne, the images of “the burning monk” - as the photograph came to be known - horrified the nation and highlighted the repression of Buddhism by the US-backed Catholic regime of Ngo Dinh Diem.

Barely six months and several copycat attempts later, Diem’s regime had been overthrown and the tide of US public opinion had swung against the war.

In an interview with the New York public radio station WNYC this week, Browne noted that there seemed to be “very close parallels between the Indochina situation in the mid-1960s and the current situation in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Mideast. Certainly self-destruction has been a part of the weapons used by relatively weak people to bring their point of view to a very wide group of people.”  

Comparing suicide bombings and suicide protests

The image of the weak prepared to die for the cause against the powerful is not new to the Muslim world.

TUNISIA 'Tunisia will be a spark provoking similar revolts'

During the Second Palestinian Intifada in the early 2000s, Hamas adeptly exploited the symbolism of a poorly equipped suicide bomber rattling a powerful enemy – the Israeli state.

But Michael Biggs, a sociologist at Oxford University whose research on self-immolation appears in “Making Sense of Suicide Missions” (Oxford University Press), makes a distinction between suicide bombings and what he calls “protest by self-immolation”.

“Suicide attacks are intended primarily to kill the enemy. They require a lot of organization and are almost invariably orchestrated by an organization, however shadowy,” said Biggs in an interview with FRANCE 24. “With suicide protests, all you need is courage.”

Bouazizi’s immolation, according to Biggs, was “individual, spontaneous, and not aimed to kill anyone else. That gets a great deal more sympathy than suicide bombings.”

A religious dimension

But while the region has seen a fair share of suicide bombings, Biggs noted that suicide protests are rare in the Muslim world.

Demonstrations rock central Tunis By Cyril VANIER / Noreddine BEZZIOU / Tatiana MASAAD, special correspondents in Tunis

“Burning can have a more sacred sense in eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and suicide protests are much more common in countries such as Korea, Vietnam and India,” he said, referring particularly to the wave of self-immolations by upper caste Indians in the 1980s protesting caste-based affirmative action policies.

“Muslim countries see comparatively lower suicide rates in part because Islam has quite a strong prohibition against defiling the human body,” he noted. “In religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, it can be viewed as an act transcending the body or an act intended to reduce the suffering of the world.”

As the recent rash of self-immolation attempts gripped the Arab world, Egypt's state-backed al Azhar, a prestigious centre of religious learning in the Sunni Muslim world, issued a statement warning anyone considering suicide.

"Sharia law states that Islam categorically forbids suicide for any reason and does not accept the separation of souls from bodies as an expression of stress, anger or protest," said al Azhar spokesman Mohammed Rifa al Tahtawi.

It’s not clear if a warning against the separation of souls from bodies will deter distressed or enraged Muslims from trying to emulate Bouazizi and make political history. The question now is whether history will repeat itself.

FRANCE French teen sets himself on fire at Marseille school

EGYPT Egyptian protester dies after setting himself alight

FRANCE French minister plays defence after controversial remarks on Tunisia

Algerian protests turn deadly on fourth day of unrest

At least three Algerian demonstrators were killed Saturday after violent protests across the country entered their fourth day. The government promised to cut the cost of certain foods in order to quell the unrest, which was sparked by soaring prices.


By News Wires (text)  
France 24, AFP -

Three people were killed and over 400 injured in riots in Algeria linked to rising food costs and unemployment, the interior minister said Saturday, as the government scrambled to tackle the crisis.
In a bid to curb the price rises, which in some cases have reached 30 percent since January 1, the government announced a temporary 41 percent cut in customs duties and taxes on sugar and food oils.
"I confirm the death of three young people at M'sila, Tipaza and Boumerdes," Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said on the Canal Algerie television channel, referring to three towns where unrest had broken out.
Two of the victims were killed Friday during the riots and the third victim was found in a hotel burned down by rioters, he said.
After a meeting of cabinet ministers to deal with the crisis, the government issued a statement announcing "temporary and exceptional exemptions" on import duties, value-added tax and corporate tax for sugar and food oils.
The measure would be retroactive to January 1 and be in force until August 31. The government said it expected "producers and distributors to urgently reflect (the exemptions) in sale prices to consumers."
Ould Kablia had said earlier that one victim in M'Sila, 300 kilometres (180 miles) southeast of Algiers, was shot dead Friday in an attempt to break into a police station. Newspaper El Khabar named the victim as 18-year-old Azzedine Lebza.
Another victim at Tipaza, 70 kilometres west of Algiers, was found with head wounds on Friday but the exact cause of death was not known, he said. A medical official said earlier that the man, 32-year-old Akriche Abdelfattah, had been hit in the face by a tear gas canister.
Ould Kablia said police had been ordered to show restraint in containing the demonstrations and had paid for it.
"More than 300 police and gendarmes have been wounded, while on the other side there are fewer than 100 hurt," he said.
The minister said police had made an unspecified number of arrests, slamming "criminal acts of destruction and violence by demonstrators who spared neither public nor private property."
Youths clashed with police in Algiers and other cities across the country on Friday despite appeals for calm from imams on the third day of unrest.
In Annaba, 600 kilometres west of Algiers, 21 people including seven police were injured, according to emergency services and a policeman who asked not to be named.
The rioting, which broke out after Friday prayers in a poor neighbourhood of the city, continued late into the night and on Saturday. A local government office was ransacked, according to witnesses.
In Tizi Ouzou, capital of the eastern Kabylie region, residents said rioting had spread from the city centre to the outskirts, and demonstrators burning tyres blocked the main road to Algiers.
Similar protests took place in the Algiers district of Belcourt but the capital was calmer Saturday.
Most of the country's political parties had on Saturday called for immediate measures to tackle the crisis.
The National Liberation Front (FLN), the leading member of the country's ruling coalition, called in a statement for "concrete measures to fight against the leap in prices and to protect the purchasing power" of Algerians.
"Controls must be imposed on prices. Speculation and monopoly must be fought against," the party said, while condemning "theft and pillaging" during the riots.
The General Union of Algerian Workers and Trade Minister Mustapha Benbada have accused producers and wholesalers of inflating prices ahead of new measures requiring them to systematically bill for their goods.
The unrest in the country, which is still under a state of emergency following a civil war with Islamist extremists in the 1990s, comes as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)'s food price index hit its highest level since it began in 1990.
About 75 percent of Algerians are under the age of 30, and 20 percent of the youth are unemployed, according to the International Monetary Fund. Many are well-qualified but cannot find work.
In neighbouring Tunisia, which has been rocked by similar protests over high unemployment, the country's main union on Saturday observed a minute's silence for at least five people who have died since demonstrations began there last month.

ALGERIA Algeria in turmoil as riots stretch over third day
ALGERIA Security tight in Algiers amid youth riots

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