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Algerians gather in capital to mark anniversary of ‘Hirak’ protest movement

Algeria this weekend marks a year since the birth of an unprecedented protest movement known as "Hirak" — one that quickly forced an ailing president from power and is now looking to maintain momentum.

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Anti-regime protesters have designated Friday and Saturday a landmark moment, mobilising to "disqualify the system's agenda of self-renewal, and to lay the foundations for a new republic."

By noon, thousands of demonstrators including women and children were gathered peacefully in front of the central post office in Algiers, the assembly point for weekly protests.

Anti-riot police were deployed but did not disperse the crowd, which chanted "We have come to celebrate, we have come to free you" and "We're not going to stop."

Checkpoints were installed on roads into the city, according to social media, complicating access to the commemoration for Algerians outside the capital.

But this did not stop Bashir, 50, from travelling 150 kilometres (95 miles) from Ain Defla "to celebrate the first anniversary of Hirak and to renew the movement's demands."

Protests first erupted on February 22 last year, in response to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announcing he intended a run for a fifth term — despite being debilitated by a 2013 stroke.

Less than six weeks later, he stepped down after losing the support of the then-army chief in the face of enormous weekly demonstrations.

But despite hordes — diplomats said "millions" — turning out after Bouteflika's fall to demand an overhaul of the entire system, the military maintained a political stranglehold in the months that followed.

The election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, once a prime minister under Bouteflika, as president in December appears to have reinforced the regime's hand and further stalled the protest movement.

But many boycotted the poll — even the official turnout was below 40 percent — and demonstrators remain numerous.

On Thursday evening, Tebboune paid homage to the protest movement in an interview with local media, promising to implement "all of its demands" after it prevented the "total collapse" of the country.

But in a manifesto published Thursday, organisations from the Hirak movement called for "continued mobilisation" to force out members of the old guard, arguing that they could not oversee the process of reform.

They denounced the state taking "repressive measures" against journalists, activists and protests.

Algerians "want their country ruled and managed with transparency" by "accountable officials, an independent judiciary and a parliament that is not a rubber stamp body," they wrote.

Challenges

Dalia Ghanem, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center based in Beirut, argued things in Algeria appeared much as before. "Soldiers have returned to their barracks, civilians are in power, so there is a democratic and constitutional facade," she said.

"Tebboune is just the civilian face of a regime that remains in the hands of the military."

But "the capacity of the regime to adapt without really changing, and its resilience, will be tested in the coming years," she contended.

It will dole out political handouts through limited reforms, she said, but an economic crisis caused by low oil prices will limit its largesse and hence its scope to maintain social peace.

The protest movement, meanwhile, has plenty ofRead More – Source

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