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Monday, 7 March 2011
Algeria: thousands of police march for higher pay
Thousands of auxiliary police marched across Algeria on Monday to demand a pay raise, breaking through heavy security to reach parliament in a rare mass show of dissent in the tightly controlled country.
Thousands of auxiliary police march across AlgiersPhoto: AP
5:10PM GMT 07 Mar 2011
The protesters, estimated by organisers to number around 20,000 and 10,000 by reporters, braved a ban on demonstrations in the capital and pushed through several police cordons to move from Martyrs Square to the National Assembly.
They were quickly surrounded by regular police dispatched to the scene of the protest.
Algeria's auxiliary police, a force numbering about 94,000 men, operate in the country's villages as part of a programme set up in 1994 when the government was battling Islamist rebel groups.
Wearing their uniforms, the protesters called on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to bring their salaries and conditions in line with those of other security services, chanting: "Bouteflika is the solution."
"We demand a rise in salaries and service indemnities along the lines of all the other security units," said Cherif Abdelkader, an auxiliary policeman from Chlef, 200 kilometres (124 miles) west of the capital.
The protesters want the raise to be backdated to 1994, Mr Abdelkader said. "We only have the right to 21 days of leave a year. We take part in security sweeps without helmets or bullet-proof jackets," another protester said.
Another said that Islamists who were released from prison under Mr Bouteflika after a ceasefire with the militants "have more rights than us. We want the president to rapidly announce concrete measures in our favour."
The demonstrators decided to march on the National Assembly after a delegation of around a dozen of their representatives returned empty-handed from a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, some of them said.
"We suggested to the delegation that they have a meeting with Interior Minister Dahou Oukld Kablia but his team refused," one said.
The deputy speaker of parliament, Seddik Chihab, urged the demonstrators to select representatives to meet the speaker, Abdelaziz Ziari, to discuss their complaints. A team of 11 was chosen, organisers said.
According to the demonstrators, about 4,400 auxiliary policemen have been killed since 1994 in violence involving armed Islamists.
The rally comes after police and pro-government activists on Saturday foiled a sixth attempt since January 22 by opposition protesters to demonstrate in a bid to depose Mr Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999.
This follows a wave of uprisings sweeping the region which toppled presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia in January and Egypt's long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak last month.
A faction of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), leading calls for Mr Bouteflika to go, organised Saturday's protest in defiance of a ban on demonstrating in Algiers and demonstrators were quickly surrounded by police.
Counter-demonstrators carrying photos of Mr Bouteflika chanted "Bouteflika Is Not Mubarak".
In a bid to appease simmering public anger, Mr Bouteflika, 73, promised last month to place "anti-corruption" at the heart of government action, along with reforms to help the economy, employment and housing.
He also lifted martial law for the first time in 19 years.
The CNCD was set up on January 21 after riots at the start of the year left five dead and 800 injured.
It has said it wants the immediate end of Mr Bouteflika's regime, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing and soaring costs that inspired the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.