Algeria’s oldest museum, home to some of the country’s most valuable art, was vandalized during protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, the culture ministry said Saturday.
“Criminals” took advantage of thousands-strong demonstrations on Friday to break into the National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts in Algiers, founded in 1897, the ministry said in a statement.
“Part of the museum was ransacked, objects stolen and administrative offices burned, as well as documents and records being destroyed,” the ministry said.
Firefighters arrived promptly and prevented the blaze from spreading, while police had managed to retrieve a saber dating from the time of the Algerian resistance to the French conquest of Algeria in the early 19th century, it said.
Tens of thousands protested across Algeria on Friday in the biggest rallies yet against ailing Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in April polls.
The police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse those who tried to force their way through a police cordon, but most demonstrators dispersed calmly as darkness fell.
The ministry called the acts at the museum “a crime against a historical heritage that covers several important stages of Algerian popular history.”
An emblem of over 2,500 years
Founded during the French occupation of Algeria, which lasted from 1830 to 1962, the museum is one of the oldest in Africa and covers over 2,500 years of history and art.
Police had not yet identified those responsible, the ministry said, adding that security had been reinforced Saturday and that “criminals” had already attempted to enter the site during a previous protest on March 1.
The museum lies at a major crossroads close to the presidential palace in Algiers.
The junction was the scene of clashes on Friday between young protesters and police, while demonstrations elsewhere in the city passed off in relative calm.
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