Thousands of students march in Algiers
By Mouna Sadek for Magharebia in Algiers – 13/04/11
A large rally Tuesday (April 12th) in Algiers began as a protest against education policy but swiftly took on political undertones, with student demonstrators chanting slogans against the government.
The demonstration started off amid a friendly atmosphere near the Place de la Grande Poste but turned into a confrontation with security forces not far from the presidential palace in El Mouradia. The protest was organised by the National Co-ordination of Autonomous Students (CNAE) and the Movement of Independent Youths for Change (MJIC).
The rally was attended by more than 20,000 students, according to CNAE member Adel Boucherguine.
The show of strength arose out of "the need to assert our rights and save universities from the profound decay they are experiencing", he said.
The students, who came from various institutes of higher education, said that the higher education ministry turned a deaf ear to their demands to abolish Algeria's new system of university degrees.
"It was through Facebook and Twitter pages that students from all over the country shared information and other comments on the university crisis. We were therefore able to rally a lot of people," Boucherguine explained.
Wearing jeans and trainers and with Algerian flags draped around their necks, many young women also defied the protest ban and joined the rally.
"It's true that it's risky to take part in demonstrations, but it's a risk that we have to take, because it's our future that's at stake," underlined Narimane, a fourth-year IT student at the University of Bab Ezzouar.
Joined by resident doctors who have been holding regular protests outside the presidential palace, the procession of demonstrators rapidly swelled. The slogans chanted by the students showed no lack of imagination: "The government is starting fires street by street, house by house" followed by "we've had enough of the ministry, we've had enough of misery." Students also shouted "free and democratic universities".
Protestors didn't mince words against the administration either, chanting the now familiar refrain from the Tunisian revolution: "the people want to overthrow the regime." Others chanted "the authorities are murderers" in addition to revolutionary songs dating back to the Algerian War of Independence.
Police officers used truncheons to prevent demonstrators from reaching the presidential palace. Civil protection officers treated students with minor injuries on the pavement near the Place Pekin in El Mouradia.
Members of the public showed solidarity with the marchers, offering them water and encouragement.
"Algiers has finally had its peaceful march without havoc or damage," commented Hassiba Merkouli, a retired teacher who lives in El Mouradia.
Politicians also praised the students' determination. The demonstration was a "show of strength" and "conviction in the face of trickery" as well as "determination in the face of refusal", according to MP Ali Brahimi, of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms.
"We must hail the credibility of the movement's demands, which belie a political maturity that heralds the dawn of a promising spring," Brahimi told Magharebia.
At the end of the march, as students filed into Avenue Karim Belkacem (formerly Telemly), the young demonstrators were exhausted but continued to chant: "Listen, listen, good people, the young people are coming!"
They marked the protest conclusion by singing a hit from the 1980s: "Congratulations, this is just the beginning, there are more victories still to come". Meanwhile, delegates from CNAE speaking outside the Grande Poste promised further protests in the coming days.
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