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Braving police and heat, Algerians take to streets pressing for real change

Ramzi Boudina, Reuters | Demonstrators carry banners and flags at a protest in Algiers, Algeria on June 28, 2019.

Algerians took to the streets of the capital, Algiers, Friday in a 19th consecutive weekly demonstration calling for genuine regime change amid tightening security by the country's powerful military and law enforcement establishment.

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Under a blazing sun and intense heat, a defiant crowd gathered in the heart of the Algerian capital, surrounded by a massive police presence that included law enforcement officers in plainclothes.

Around a hundred police vans -- more than the usual security presence at past demonstrations -- were parked in the heart of the capital since early Friday, according to witnesses who saw water cannons and anti-barricade bulldozers ready for use. The vehicles remained in place after the start of the protest, which began after the noon prayers.

Algerians have kept up the pressure for regime change despite the April 2 resignation of the country’s former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Targeting Berber flags and symbols

Algeria’s army chief, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has become the main powerbroker after calling on Bouteflika to step down, has banned protesters from holding any flags other than Algeria's national flag during their rallies.

His directive is widely viewed as targeting the Berber -- or Amazigh – flags and symbols, which protesters have been seen holding, alongside the national flag, at rallies in recent weeks.

The mountainous Kabylie region east of Algiers is home to the largest Berber community in Algeria, who have long suffered marginalisation.

Police officers on Friday used tear gas to try to disperse protesters after arresting a demonstrator carrying a Berber flag. The incident sparked angry scenes among the protesters although calm was quickly restored by volunteers responsible for ensuring the demonstrations remain peaceful.

A week ago, 18 demonstrators carrying Berber flags were arrested during the Friday demonstration and charged with "violation of national unity", an offense punishable by 10 years' imprisonment. They were then placed in pre-trial detention.

Algerians have been demanding the departure of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who they see as part of the old guard that has run the North African country since independence from France in 1962.

Authorities have postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4 because of a lack of candidates, with no new date set for the vote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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