ALGIERS — Students and riot police fought pitch battles in the Algerian capital Monday, leaving more than 20 injured as protesters took to the streets demanding political change, witnesses and rights groups said.
The students had planned to meet at Algiers’ central post office, which is a landmark in the capital, and march on government buildings about two kilometres away, but police also turned out in their hundreds.
Demonstrations are currently banned in the north African country, but youths have rallied several times in recent months to confront police equipped with riot shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and batons.
The students tried several times to break through the police barrier and police began to use their batons, while their opponents threw projectiles made of glass.
Police tried to frighten the students away by rattling their batons against their riot shields, eventually forcing the youths to fall back.
“There are more than 20 injured, that’s what I’ve been told by the hospital,” Khelil Moumene from the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) told AFP in a telephone call.
Three police officers were also hurt in the clashes, AFP journalists saw, but the authorities were not able to confirm whether any more were injured.
At one point, thick black smoke poured out of the top floor of a school next to the University of Algiers, leading to the evacuation of pupils and the arrival of the fire brigade. Pupils told AFP the whole floor had been burnt.
The students then briefly sat down on the ground outside the university entrance before making an attempt to march in the opposite direction, but once again they ran into hundreds of police.
Several hundred later milled around with banners reading “For a university open to the world,” “Down with the repression of students,” and “Down with this regime.”
The demonstration came to a peaceful end around four hours later.
Algeria has been largely unaffected by the wave of popular uprisings in north Africa that has already toppled the leaderships of Tunisia and Egypt.
However, students wanting political reforms and improved study and living conditions have already demonstrated several times in Algiers and forcefully been halted, with injuries sustained.
Security measures were in place across the centre of the capital from the early hours of Monday.
Hundreds of police officers and vehicles were stationed in the streets leading to the central post office.