After spurring demonstrations in 2019 to oust veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the "Hirak" movement continued with weekly marches seeking to stop the army from interfering in politics.

Demonstrators march during a protest demanding political change, in Algiers, Algeria, on April 16, 2021.
Demonstrators march during a protest demanding political change, in Algiers, Algeria, on April 16, 2021. (Reuters)

Algerian authorities have put down weekly pro-democracy protests in the capital Algiers and across the country, detaining hundreds of demonstrators.

"March prevented and suppressed in Algiers and Annaba, confrontations in Bouira, arrests in several provinces," said Said Salhi, head of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), adding that rallies had gone ahead in Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou.

He said almost 500 people had been taken in for questioning in around 15 provinces but mostly in the capital, and that two journalists were briefly apprehended.

Those detained usually have their mobile phones confiscated and are released at the end of the day while waiting to appear in court.

A heavy police presence prevented the march from taking place in the capital Algiers, AFP journalists said, and police had blocked roads and regular protest routes from the morning.

"For the 118th Friday [since the first Hirak protests], 'Algiers the White' has turned police blue," said Lyes, a man in his forties who declined to provide his surname, referring to the capital by its Arabic moniker.

One regular protester who gave only his first name Amarouche for fear of reprisals after a wave of arrests, had initially said he planned to demonstrate as usual.

But later on Friday he said he had not been able to.

"It was simply impossible. Too many police out there," he said.

Reuters on Friday afternoon viewed several parts of the capital where protests normally took place, but all were quiet – and with a large police presence.

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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 president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing autocrat was forced to step down weeks later, but the 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 around 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 that Hirak protest organisers would have to advise authorities of protests in advance, a move that came amid mounting government pressure on the movement as early legislative elections approach.

The 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.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies