Thousands of Algerian protesters gather in central Algiers: witnesses

Algerians gather for a demonstration in Algiers, Friday, March 8, 2019. They were then challenging Bouteflika’s fitness to run for a fifth term in next month’s election. (File/AP)
Updated 22 March 2019

Thousands of Algerian protesters gather in central Algiers: witnesses

  • “Rain will not stop us from continuing our pressure,” said a protester
  • Protest numbers have grown dramatically after prayers on the three previous Fridays during the series of demonstrations that kicked off on Feb. 22

ALGIERS: The number of protesters gathered in central Algiers to demand the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika swiftly swelled into the thousands on Friday, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.
Crowds were growing even before Friday prayers had started after which even bigger numbers are expected to join to protest.

Earlier, hundreds of Algerians took to the streets of the capital to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit immediately.
Protesters gathered in the city center defying rain, carrying Algerian flags and pamphlets, gathering in the same spot where a wave of demonstrations erupted a month ago.
“Rain will not stop us from continuing our pressure,” said 23-year old Ahmed Khoudja.
Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he has stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His move has failed to appease Algerians, who want veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France who dominate the establishment to quit so a new generation of leaders can take over and begin to create jobs, fight corruption and introduce greater freedoms.
Protest numbers have grown dramatically after prayers on the three previous Fridays during the series of demonstrations that kicked off on Feb 22.
“We stay here until the whole system goes,” said Mahmoud Timar, a 37-year old teacher.
Leaders have emerged from the protest movement, offering an alternative to Bouteflika’s political roadmap to what he says will be a new Algeria. But they have not yet built up enough momentum to force him to quit or make more concessions.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has remained on the sidelines, and is seen as unlikely to intervene as long as the protests remain peaceful.


’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

Updated 11 November 2019

’Sister protests’: Lebanon, Iraq look to each other

BEIRUT: A Lebanese flag flutters in the protest-hit Iraqi capital. More than 900 kilometers (500 miles) away, a revolutionary Iraqi chant rings out from a bustling protest square in Beirut.
“Don’t trust the rumors, they’re a group of thieves,” sings a group of Lebanese musicians in Iraqi dialect, referring to political leaders they deem incompetent and corrupt.
“The identity is Lebanese,” they continue, reworking the chant by Iraqi preacher Ali Yusef Al-Karbalai, made popular during the street movement there.
Such recent shows of solidarity have become a common feature of protest squares in the two countries, where corruption, unemployment and appalling public services have fueled unprecedented street movements demanding the ouster of an entire political class.
They serve to “shed light on similarities between the two movements and boost morale,” said Farah Qadour, a Lebanese oud musician.
“The two streets are observing and learning from each other,” said the 26-year-old who is part of the group that adopted Al-Karbalai’s chant.
In Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatiyeh, hundreds brandishing Lebanese flags chanted: “From Iraq to Beirut, one revolution that never dies.”
And in the northern city of Tripoli, dubbed the “bride” of Lebanon’s protest movement, a man standing on a podium waved a wooden pole bearing the flags of the two countries.
“From Lebanon to Iraq, our pain is one, our right is one, and victory is near,” read a sign raised during another protest, outside Beirut’s state-run electricity company.
In Tahrir Square, the beating heart of Baghdad’s month-old protest movement, demonstrators are selling Lebanese flags alongside Iraqi ones.
They have hung some on the abandoned Turkish restaurant, turned by Iraqi demonstrators into a protest control tower.
Banners reading “from Beirut to Baghdad, one revolution against the corrupt” could be seen throughout.
Lebanon and Iraq are ranked among the most corrupt countries in the region by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International, with Iraq listed as the 12th most corrupt in the world.
Public debt levels in both countries are relatively high, with the rate in Lebanon exceeding 150 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
“What’s happening on the streets in Iraq and Lebanon, they’re sister protests,” said Samah, a 28-year-old Lebanese demonstrator.
“They’re the result of an accumulation” of years of problems.
One video that went viral on social media networks showed a masked Iraqi protester dressed in military fatigues demanding the resignation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, one of the main targets of protesters in the small Mediterranean country.
In a video released online, a group of young Iraqi men had filmed themselves singing, “Lebanon, we’re with you!“
The two movements also seem to be adopting similar protest strategies.
In both countries, rows of parked vehicles have blocked traffic along main thoroughfares in recent weeks.
University-aged demonstrators wearing medical masks or eye goggles have occupied bridges and flyovers, refusing to believe pledges of reform from both governments.
The big difference is that in Iraq, the demonstrations have turned deadly, with more than 300 people, mostly protesters but also including security forces, killed since the movement started October 1.
Lebanon’s street movement, which started on October 17, has been largely incident-free despite scuffles with security forces and counter-demonstrators rallying in support of established parties.
The two movements, however, are united in their anger about the kind of political system that prioritizes power-sharing between sects over good governance.
The consecutive governments born out of this system have been prone to deadlock and have failed to meet popular demands for better living conditions.
“We are united by a sense of patriotic duty in confronting this sectarian political system,” said Obeida, a 29-year-old protester from Tripoli.
He said he had high hopes for Iraqi protesters because the sectarian power-sharing system there is relatively new, having emerged after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“In Lebanon, it’s more entrenched,” he said of the arrangement that ended the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
On a Beirut waterfront, dotted with luxury restaurants and cafes, a 70-year-old Iraqi man who has been living in Lebanon for five years looked on as demonstrators laid out picnic blankets on the grass.
With a Lebanese flag wrapped around his neck, Fawzi said the protests looked different but reminded him of those back home.
“The goal is one,” he said.