Thousands of Algerians hit streets of capital on protest movement anniversary

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Several thousand people gathered in the Algerian capital Saturday on the first anniversary of a protest movement that seeks an overhaul of the political system and forced the former president to resign.

Protesters shouted “the people want the fall of the regime” and “we have come to get rid of you”, referring to the country’s rulers.

“No to military power, civil not military state” was written on one banner, referring to the authority exercised by the high military command since the country’s independence from France in 1962.

Mass 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.

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.

Police were deployed around the Grande Poste in central Algiers in numbers unusual for a Saturday, as people responded to calls on social media to celebrate the first anniversary of the “Hirak” protest movement.

Friday had seen the 53rd straight weekly demonstration, with Algerians flooding the streets of Algiers and numerous other cities across the country.

Even as the unprecedented movement has thinned in numbers since December, protesters still turn out in droves on a weekly basis.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika who was elected in December, had recently claimed that “things are starting to calm” in the streets and that “the Hirak got almost everything it wanted.”

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