Thousands of police march for higher pay in Algeria
ALGIERS - Thousands of auxiliary police marched in Algiers Monday to demand pay raises, breaking through heavy security to reach parliament in a rare mass show of dissent in the tightly controlled country.
The policemen, estimated by organisers to number around 20,000 and by reporters to be 10,000, braved a ban on demonstrations in the Algerian capital and pushed through several security cordons to reach the National Assembly.
They were quickly surrounded by regular police dispatched to the scene of the protest.
The men, many of them in uniform, demanded President Abdelaziz Bouteflika bring their salaries and conditions in line with those of other security services, chanting: "Bouteflika is the solution."
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.
"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.
They want the raise to be backdated to 1994, 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 claimed that Islamist militants released from prison under Bouteflika after a ceasefire "have more rights than us". "We want the president to rapidly announce concrete measures in our favour," he said.
According to the demonstrators, about 4,400 auxiliary policemen have been killed since 1994 in violence involving armed Islamists.
The demonstrators marched 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.
A delegation met later with the speaker of parliament, Abdelaziz Ziari.
Ziari "found that our demands were reasonable and legitimate. He promised to transmit them to President Bouteflika. He is expected to give us an answer today," a member told AFP after the two-hour talk.
Some protesters refused to leave the National Assembly, shouting: "We will remain here until the answer is announced!"
Algeria's opposition has attempted to stage several anti-Bouteflika protests in the capital, in defiance of a ban on demonstrating in the city, but have been thwarted.
This follows uprisings sweeping the Arab world, including ones that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia in January and Egypt's long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak last month.
On Saturday the latest attempt to protest against Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, was foiled when police surrounded protesters and counter-demonstrators chanted "Bouteflika Is Not Mubarak".
In a bid to appease simmering public anger, 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 movement against Bouteflika is being led by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD) which was set up on January 21 after riots at the start of the year that left five dead and 800 injured.
It has said it wants the immediate end of Bouteflika's regime, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing and soaring costs that inspired the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.