Mass protests planned for February 12. From Reuters Africa:
Algeria police try to stifle Egypt-inspired protest
By Christian Lowe and Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Feb 12 (Reuters) – Thousands of police in riot gear were in position in the centre of the Algerian capital on Saturday to stop a planned demonstration from mimicking the uprising which forced out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Officials have banned the opposition march, setting the stage for possible clashes between police and demonstrators who are demanding greater democratic freedoms, a change of government, and more jobs.
Mubarak’s resignation on Friday, and last month’s overthrow of Tunisia’s leader, have electrified the Arab world and led many to ask which country could be next in a region where a flammable mix of authoritarian rule and popular anger are the norm.
Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy because it is a major oil and gas exporter, but many analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to placate most grievances.
“We are ready for the march,” said Mohsen Belabes, a spokesman for the small RCD opposition party which is one of the organisers of the protest. “It’s going to be a great day for democracy in Algeria.”
A heavy police presence is routine in Algeria to counter the threat of attacks by al Qaeda insurgents, but many times the usual numbers were already in place hours before the start of the protest at 11:00 a.m. (1000 GMT).
At May 1 Square, the starting point for the planned march not far from the city’s Mediterranean port, at least 15 police vans, jeeps and buses were lined up. A similar number were in a nearby side-street outside the city’s Mustapha hospital.
At several road junctions, the police had parked small military-style armoured vehicles which are rarely seen in the city. Police standing outside a fuel station about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the square were wearing anti-riot body armour.
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