End police state, demand Algerians

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Thousands of people have defied an official ban on demonstrations in the Algerian capital, gathering in Algiers for a pro-reform rally (AP)

Thousands of Algerians have defied government warnings and dodged barricades to rally in their capital, demanding democratic reforms a day after mass protests toppled Egypt’s autocratic ruler.

Protesters chanting “No to the police state!” and brandishing signs which read “Give us back our Algeria” clashed with baton-wielding police in helmets and visors.

Organisers said more than 400 people were briefly detained, but aside from some jostling between police and protesters no violence was reported.

Algeria has long been ruled by a repressive government and beset by widespread poverty and high unemployment – factors that helped foment popular uprisings that ousted leaders of two other North African nations in the past month.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign on Friday after 30 years in power, and a “people’s revolution” in Tunisia, Algeria’s neighbour to the east, forced autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile on January 14.

The opposition in Algeria said demonstrators’ bold defiance of a long-standing ban on public protests in Algiers marked a turning point.

“This demonstration is a success because it’s been 10 years that people haven’t been able to march in Algiers and there’s a sort of psychological barrier,” said Ali Rachedi, the former head of the Front of Socialist Forces party. “The fear is gone.”

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