Several hundred protesters have been arrested in Algeria as authorities ramp up efforts to quell a years-long protest movement that has demanded root-and-branch political reform.
Said Salhi, head of the Algerian League for Human Rights, said about 800 people were detained in Algiers and 19 other governorates across the North African country on Friday.
The majority were released but 40 people remain in custody, he wrote on Twitter.
Heavy police presence in the capital prevented their weekly march from taking place, local media reports said, with police blocking roads and regular protest routes from early in the morning.
“For the 118th Friday [since the first Hirak protests], ‘Algiers the White’ has turned police blue,” said Lyes, a man in his 40s who declined to provide his surname, referring to the capital by its Arabic moniker.
Independent reporters and photographers without media accreditation cannot normally cover the marches. Internet blackouts hampered media coverage in some cities.
The largely leaderless and politically unstructured Hirak movement was launched in 2019 over then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.
The ailing leader was forced to step down weeks later, but Hirak has continued its demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
Marches were suspended for about a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but protesters have returned to the streets since February and given the movement new momentum.
The interior ministry last week said Hirak protest organisers would have to advise authorities of demonstrations in advance, a move that came amid mounting government pressure on the movement as early legislative elections approach.
Hirak has rejected the June 12 vote, and human rights organisations have warned of increasing repression in the lead-up to the polls.
At least 133 people are currently detained in connection with the Hirak movement or cases related to freedom of expression, according to Algerian Detainees, a journalist-run website.