By MICHAEL SCHREIBER

The Algerian government and police have cracked down hard on protests organized by the pro-democracy Hirak movement. On May 21, some 800 protesters were arrested across the country, states Said Salhi, head of the Algerian League for Human Rights. Most were later released, but at least 133 people remain in jail on charges concerning protests for freedom of expression, according to Algerian Detainees, a journalist-run website.

The politically diffuse Hirak movement formed in 2019 around protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was seeking a fifth term in upcoming elections. Bouteflika was forced from office, but Hirak continued its protests, demanding that the entire system be overhauled. The protest movement burst into flames again this year, as economic difficulties worsened, due in part to a fall in oil prices. Prices have soared and basic food items are in short supply. The rate of unemployment is at about 15 percent.

Since February, tens of thousands have filled the streets of many cities, especially on Fridays, with demands for a “free and democratic Algeria!” The protesters reject President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s call for parliamentary elections on June 12. Hirak is urging a boycott and demanding, “No elections with the Mafia gang [in power]!” Tebboune was elected in December 2019, following Bouteflicka’s ouster, with a vote that had barely a 40 percent turnout.

Last month, firefighters went on strike over the government’s social policies and marched not far from the presidential palace. While Tebboune urged “dialogue” with civil service employees, on May 2, police broke up the firefighters’ march with water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The government has indicated it will no longer allow protests to continue. A government spokesperson told Reuters that “life needs to go back to normal. … THEY MUST GO.”

The following call for solidarity was issued by the the Fourth International Bureau:

“Our comrades of the Algerian PST [Socialist Workers Party] are facing a threat of banning by the regime, in the context of a major repression against the popular movement and workers’ struggles. Hundreds of arrests of journalists and activists of various currents have taken place in recent months. The aim is for the authorities to take advantage of the decline in mobilization, in the context of the health crisis, to break up any protest, any voice challenging the masquerade of the presidential elections of December 2020 and the future legislative elections of 12 June 2021, which are just as illegitimate and in which most of the organizations not associated with the authorities refuse to participate.

“The PST, which is invested in the Hirak and in workers’ and youth mobilizations, is therefore threatened with a ban: this would mean a ban on activism as a PST, the closure of its premises, and the possibility of arresting its activists.

“International solidarity with the comrades is extremely important to push back the government. All messages of support, from all democratic, political, associative, trade-union organizations, individuals, especially those linked to the anti-colonial struggle, are welcome. Please send to secretariatpst@gmail.com as soon as possible.”

Photo: Reuters