ALGIERS — Algerian security forces Wednesday blocked a demonstration in Algiers by some 1,500 striking doctors and students of health care in the latest clampdown on protests in the north African country.
The protesters, dressed in the white jackets of health workers, had gathered Wednesday morning at the Mustapha Bacha hospital, the largest in the Algerian capital.
However, they were blocked from leaving the hospital and marching towards the parliament or presidency by security forces, equipped with anti-riot gear and armoured vehicles.
The protesters shouted demands for respect for their professions, especially after new government rules stating that students in pharmacy and dentistry would no longer be designated “doctors” when they complete their studies.
The “degrading” move will affect their salary scale, they said.
“The most important thing is not what we’re called but our grade in the public salary scale which is currently closer to paramedics than doctors,” said Achraf, one student spokesman who gave only his first name.
As for the doctors in various medical specialties who are on strike, their demands include a salary increase and an end to compulsory public service, which requires them to work for two to four years in remote areas of the country after finishing their studies.
Algeria’s Health Minister Djamel Ould Abbes held talks with representatives of the different health sectors on Tuesday and reportedly made verbal promises of salary increases up to 70 percent and revision of health statutes.
Algeria has been shaken in recent months by protests at all levels of society and with strikes by students, doctors and auxiliary police against the cost of living and calling for reforms.
In a bid to quell discontent the government is proposing a Complimentary Finance Law to boost spending power and the small and medium sized business sector.
The legislation includes measures such as dropping VAT from household essentials such as sugar and cooking oil and a reduction in employers’ charges.
It will go before the People’s National Assembly before the end of the spring session.