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Protesters, police clash in Algerian capital

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Tensions erupt in Algeria
  • Anti-riot police gathered at the scene, blocked entrances to the city
  • The protests pushed for reforms in the north African nation
  • Demonstrators in the region have protested unemployment, corruption and high food costs

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Algiers, Algeria (CNN) -- Tensions erupted in another restive North African nation as security forces in Algeria on Saturday clashed with anti-government protesters who chanted, "Change the power."

Police detained about 100 protesters in the nation's capital of Algiers, according to the Algerian League for Human Rights. The league is one of the main opposition groups that organized the rallies -- unauthorized gatherings that came a day after embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

"We are here once again to tell this government that we want an Algeria (that is) democratic," one protester told Reuters television. "That's why we are here today and we will always be, as this power is still here, we will be always here too."

More than 3,000 demonstrators, including activists, students, doctors, and parliament members, joined the rally but were blocked by more than 30,000 police officers, said league president Mustafa Boushashi.

Woolsey: Next step marks Egypt's fate
  • Algeria
  • Egypt

"The police attacked the demonstrators," Boushashi told CNN. "Many activists were beaten and over a hundred were taken into custody, including the parliament members from the Rally for Culture and Democracy Party."

Khalil AbdulMouminm, the league's general secretary, called the situation "very tense on the ground" and said police were preventing protesters from assembling, with authorities blocking all entrances to the capital.

"We want this rally to break the wall of fear in the first place," AbdulMouminm said. "And to trigger change in order to reach our legitimate demands, like lifting the emergency law after all these years, liberating media, freedom of political expression."

Mubarak's ouster -- fueled by 18 days of angry protests -- was preceded by last month's overthrowing of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, helping stoke demands for reform in the Arab world.

In the past few weeks, demonstrators in the region have protested against various issues, including unemployment, high food costs and corruption. The problems are similar to those that fueled uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

"Population growth and associated problems -- unemployment and underemployment, inability of social services to keep pace with rapid urban migration, inadequate industrial management and productivity, a decaying infrastructure -- continue to affect Algerian society," the U.S. State Department says in a background note about Algeria.

Earlier this month, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he will end a state of emergency that has lasted nearly two decades, according to a report from the Algerian Press Service. Experts have said the announcement is a clear attempt by the Algerian leader to head off the kind of social unrest that toppled Ben Ali and Mubarak.

The state of emergency was imposed in 1992 to quell a civil war that eroded the country's resources and led to what the U.S. State Department says were the deaths of more than 150,000 people.

"The Algerian Civil War lasted well over a decade and pitted a corrupt military junta, which had ruled behind the facade of an elected government, against Islamists who effectively won a popular election in the early 1990s, and were then deprived of power," a paper by the Centers for Strategic and International Studies said in December.

"When civil war broke out, violent extremist elements among these Islamists quickly came to dominate the fighting, while the military increasingly relied on equally violent repression."

However, opponents of the regime say the Islamist threat has long since diminished and that the law now exists only to muzzle critics of the government.

Journalist Nassima Oulebsir contributed to this report.

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