Unemployed and young people plan rallies for change in Algeria

Demonstrations by youth groups and the jobless on April 19 will coincide with 49th anniversary of a ceasefire that led to Algerian independence from France.

ALGIERS // Unemployed Algerians and youth seeking political change say they plan to hold separate demonstrations in Algiers this week, stepping up protests against the authorities.

The two demonstrations on April 19 will coincide with the 49th anniversary of a ceasefire that led to Algerian independence from France.

The call for the demonstration by young people was launched on Facebook this month, but those behind it remain anonymous.

Algeria has been swept by a wave of sometimes violent demonstrations and strikes since January's popular uprising in neighbouring Tunisia.

In January, a crackdown on cost-of-living protests left five dead and more than 800 wounded, according to official sources.

Leaders of the youth movement spoke to a few journalists in Algiers on Wednesday, keen to debunk the negative messages among the supportive ones on their Facebook page, such as one that read: "Anonymity is a way of manipulating people. You are evidently a political party in hiding."

One of the youths, a young woman who identified herself as Maya, 28, told yesterday's daily El Watan newspaper: "We are just concerned about the future of our country. To try to march in Algiers is the only means of getting together, talking and existing."

The youths have decided to gather tomorrow in front of the main post office in central Algiers, where they plan to commemorate the first step that led to Algerian independence in 1962 after 132 years of French colonial rule.

Amine, 29,a businessman, said yesterday that the protest "should mark an important turning point to show that our moves are independent of the political parties".

"We all want to get together and march up to the president's offices to express our desire for change, but everybody will come with their own idea of what that change means," Amine said.

Meanwhile, authorities plan to hold a symposium on the theme, "The Algerian revolution: will, victory and loyalty", and it will cover the notion of "the criminalisation of colonialism and the laying bare of the practices of the French occupation during the liberation war", the APS news agency quoted an organiser as saying.

On Sunday, the National Committee of the Unemployed, which was establishd on February 6, plans to begin a march at the May 1 Square to press for decent jobs, unemployment benefits worth 50 per cent of the national basic minimum wage, and measures to protect employees on short-term contracts.

The wave of social protests that has recently shaken Algeria has reached all levels of society. Strikes have been held by students, specialised doctors in hospitals and employees of every kind, including auxiliary police.

The government has responded with promises of substantial financing for projects to meet popular demand, but these pledges have not prevented the wildcat strikes affecting several economic sectors.

In January, opposition leaders and political parties met in an attempt to channel the protests by setting up a National Coordination for Change and Democracy. This body split up, though it remains active.

Ali Yahia Abdennour, a founder of the CNCD and honorary president of the Algerian League of Human Rights, wrote in an opinion column yesterday: "The Algerian people aspire to radical change, to a change of regime, not a change in the regime.

"As in the days of colonialism, the Algerian people do not have their rights and the clans in power behave like lords and masters," Mr Abdennour, 90, a lawyer said, adding that Algeria was now prey to "internal colonialism".