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Algerians defy ban to protest government

From Lamia Tagzout, For CNN
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Algerian forces clash with protesters
  • NEW: 11 individuals, 8 police injured, Algeria's official news agency reports
  • Security forces clashed with demonstrators in Algiers
  • Protesters are demanding the government lift restrictions
  • A state of emergency in place for almost two decades bans such protests

Algiers, Algeria (CNN) -- Baton-wielding Algerian security forces clashed Saturday with protesters who defied a ban and took to the streets of the capital demanding political reform.

Eleven individuals and eight policemen were injured, two seriously, the official Algerie Presse Service reported.

Police arrested nine protesters, the news service said.

Algeria's largest opposition party, Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), last week called the demonstration to demand the release of detainees, the lifting of a state of emergency that has been in place for almost two decades, and the restoration of individual and collective freedoms.

"We asked to do a march, in a legal way, but they told us: 'You are the opposition and you don't have any rights in your country,'" said Said Saadi, head of the RCD.

Algeria's opposition: We don't kneel

Saadi said the government wants Algerians to "kneel in front of them. But we don't kneel."

The government called the demonstration "small" with about 250 people and said it was "unauthorized." Security forces prevented journalists from photographing the demonstration or interviewing organizers.

Anti-government protests erupted in Algeria in early January after weeks of similar demonstrations in neighboring Tunisia that eventually ended 23 years of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's rule.

In Algeria, the protests broke out over spiraling food costs. The opposition blames the government of failing to use the north African nation's energy wealth to better the lives of ordinary people.

A law adopted in 2001 indefinitely bans all demonstrations in Algiers, according to the monitoring group Human Rights Watch. A nationwide state of emergency in effect for nearly two decades allows the government to ban any event that is "likely to disturb public order and tranquility."