Monday, January 24, 2011
ALGIERS/SANAA: Algerian police clashed with pro-democracy protesters in the capital over the weekend, leaving multiple casualties, as they blocked a march on Parliament that had fuelled fears of Tunisia-style unrest.
Drawing inspiration from Tunisia, thousands of Yemeni opposition activists demanded the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a noisy demonstration that appeared to be the first large-scale public challenge to the strongman. Fresh demonstrations broke out Sunday to protest the arrest of press-freedom activist Tawakel Karman and other detainees, who led Saturday’s rallies.
In Algiers, the opposition said at least 42 people had been wounded during the clashes, including two seriously. The Interior Ministry put the number of wounded at 19, including 11 protesters or passers-by, and eight police.
Said Sadi, the head of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), said that party spokesman Mohsen Belabbes was among the wounded while the head of the party’s parliamentary group, Othmane Amazouz, had been arrested.
Another of the party’s MPs, Arezki Aiter, was detained but released after an hour, the party said.
Around 300 people had gathered for the rally, intending to march from the city’s Place de la Concorde to the Parliament, but they were quickly blockaded by police armed with batons and tear gas, which prevented the group from moving for six hours before it dispersed.
While the Interior Ministry put the number of arrests at nine, Sadi said his party’s headquarters in the city’s main avenue had been besieged, describing himself as “a prisoner.”
The protesters in the street below waved Tunisian as well as Algerian flags and shouted “A free Algeria, a democratic Algeria” in Arabic, and “Murder State.”
An AFP journalist saw one of the party’s regional leaders, Reda Boudraa, bleeding from a head wound after being hit by a police baton. Boudraa was taken away in an ambulance with another wounded protester.
Said vowed the RCD would mount further protests, despite the government ban, saying his supporters were preparing “for the next demonstrations,” planned for Feb. 9, anniversary of the state of emergency declared in 1992.
A government statement, carried by APS Friday, said: “Citizens are asked to show wisdom and vigilance and not respond to possible provocation aimed at disturbing their tranquility, peace of mind and serenity.”
“Marches are not allowed in Algiers” under the state of emergency, the statement warned, adding that “all assemblies on public roads are considered a breach of public order.”
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights said Saturday the blanket government ban on peaceful protest could cause a social explosion in the North African country.
“The fact of banning peaceful marches undertaken by the parties and civil society is leading us toward an explosion,” the group’s president Mostefa Bouchachi told AFP.
In Yemen, meanwhile, about 200 journalists marched in Sanaa Sunday to demand the release of press- Karman and other detainees, while witnesses said student protesters in the capital clashed with police.
The journalists marched from their union office to the prosecutor’s office to demand the release of those detained, but left without being given information on the detainees, according to participants who asked not to be identified.
Police stopped Karman on her way home early Sunday and charged her with organizing unlicensed protests without permission, said her husband Mohammad Ismail al-Nehmi, who was with her.
Karman led two demonstrations at Sanaa University Saturday, criticizing autocratic Arab leaders and calling on Yemenis to topple the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, by using text messages and e-mails.
Clashes also broke out outside Sanaa University Sunday as security forces tried to disperse dozens of students and activists calling for political change, witnesses said. The protest eventually broke up.
A cameraman who was filming the clashes for Al-Arabiya satellite channel was briefly detained, his station said. And a cameraman for Al-Jazeera was beaten by police, the station said.
In Saturday’s rallies, around 2,500 students, activists and opposition groups gathered in the university’s campus and chanted slogans against the president.
“Get out get out, Ali. Join your friend Ben Ali,” the crowds chanted.
Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators, whose grievances include proposed constitutional changes that would allow the president to rule for a lifetime. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a security official said around 30 protesters had been detained. – Agencies