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Hundreds gather in Paris to call for a 'free and democratic Algeria'

Text by Rachel HOLMAN

Latest update : 2011-02-12

Hundreds of protesters gathered in the historic Place de la République in Paris Saturday, calling for a "Free and democratic Algeria" in a proud show of solidarity with Algeria's budding anti-government movement.

Crowds gathered in Paris’ Place de la République Saturday in a show of solidarity with anti-government protesters in Algeria. The protests in the French capital came as thousands took to the streets of the Algerian capital of Algiers in defiance of a government ban on demonstrations to stage a rally calling for the removal of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Saturday’s protests in Paris and Algiers came the day after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down following an 18-day popular uprising in the world’s largest Arab nation.

In Paris, protesters called for a “Free and democratic Algeria!” and held signs demanding that Bouteflika “Get out!” From the bed of a truck, people were invited to take turns at the megaphone, while people danced and chanted as music blared over loudspeakers. Egyptian and Tunisian national flags rippled in the air alongside Algeria’s emblematic green, white and red flag, in a proud show of Arab solidarity.

Nearly a month ago, Tunisian strongman Zine al Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile, sparking speculation over whether Tunisia’s far larger and wealthier western neighbour could turn into “the next Tunisia”.

Bouteflika, who has served as Algeria’s president since 1999, has come under pressure from opposition groups and many ordinary Algerians demanding democratic reforms.

“A contamination of liberty”

Dalila Bachiri, a pharmacist who left Algeria in 1998 for France, compared the throngs of festive protesters to the symptoms of a contagious disease.

“What’s happening right now is like the flu,” Bachiri told FRANCE 24. “There is a contamination of liberty.”

Hassen Djeddi, a young salesman participating in the protests in Paris, said he had come to support the pro-democracy movement, and felt that the success of Egypt and Tunisia’s recent popular uprisings had given him hope that the same would be possible in Algeria.

“It’s happiness to see this. I am young, and I have already seen two revolutions happen in the Arab world,” said Djeddi, yelling above the din.

“It’s an opaque democracy”, said Zeghoud, a protester at Place de la Republique who preferred not to give his first name. “We change presidents, we have elections, but nothing changes. The unique thing that changes is the president’s face.”

The protests, which were slated to start at 2pm, quickly swelled to fill up the historic square. Police estimated that around 800 people had gathered in Paris, while event organisers put the figure at more than 1,000.

Speaking before the rally, Fatima Yous, president of the Paris-based human rights group SOS Missing families in Algeria, one of an umbrella group of organisers, said the protests were totally unexpected.

“My entire life I’ve been fighting in secret,” said Yous. “I didn’t expect this at all, but now I have hope that things are going to change.”

Date created : 2011-02-12

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