Unrest in Algeria Put Down by Police

Algiers — Algerian demonstrators, inspired by popular protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, protested in the capital, Algiers, on Saturday before security forces moved in to break up the demonstration.

The demonstrators gathered in May 1 Square, chanting “Bouteflika out!” in reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has ruled Algeria since 1999. Organizers said thousands had taken part, but news agencies gave vastly differing figures, from a few dozen to thousands.

The protesters were hemmed in by thousands of riot police and blocked from embarking on a planned march through the capital. Many were arrested, although there were also conflicting numbers for those detained.

By Saturday afternoon, the square was lined by riot police and armored vehicles and a police helicopter circled overhead. Principal roads into the center of town also remained blocked and far fewer people were on the streets than would be typical on a Saturday.

The Interior Ministry posted a statement on its Web site saying that 250 people had taken part in the protests and that 14 people had been detained and later released, according to Reuters.

Human rights groups however said the number of arrests had been far higher.

The media spokesman for the coordinating committee seeking democratic change in Algeria said that 70 people had been arrested and that about 30 remained in detention. Those detained included the group’s main organizers, as well as human rights activists, union organizers, members of women’s associations and groups formed to track the missing and killed during the civil war in the 1990s.

“It is unacceptable, for a regime that pretends to be ‘democratic’ to pursue its repressive and illegal ways,” spokesman, Tewfik Allal, said in a statement.

Algeria’s government has operated under a state of emergency for nearly two decades. Several antigovernment protests broke out in early January, including some in which demonstrators clashed with members of Algeria’s security forces.

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On Friday, several people were wounded outside the office of the main opposition group by security forces as they were celebrating the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after weeks of antigovernment protests in Egypt.

Three weeks earlier, demonstrations in neighboring Tunisia led to the ouster of that country’s autocratic ruler, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

In, Saudi Arabia, the state news agency reported that the Saudi government welcomed the “peaceful transition of power” in Egypt and supported Egypt’s security forces efforts “to restore peace, stability and tranquillity.”

Adam Nossiter reported from Algiers, and Timothy Williams From New York. Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting from New York.

This article “Unrest in Algeria Put Down By Police” originally appeared at The New York Times.

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