Algeria opposition says to hold weekly rallies

ALGIERS Sun Feb 13, 2011 12:42pm EST

1 of 5. Algerian policemen try to take away a banner from anti-government protesters during a demonstration in Algiers February 12, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian opposition groups said on Sunday they would follow up the protest they held this weekend by calling a demonstration in the capital every Saturday until the government is changed.

Several hundred protesters, inspired by revolts which overthrew entrenched leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, defied a police ban and protested in Algiers on Saturday. But thousands of riot police blocked a planned march through the city.

The coalition of civil society groups, some trade unionists and an opposition party which organized the rally decided to repeat the rally weekly on Saturdays and in the meantime to recruit more supporters to their cause.

"We will continue to march until the regime steps down. Each Saturday we will maintain the pressure," said Mohsen Belabes, a spokesman for the RCD opposition party which helped organize the protest on February 12.

The resignation on Friday of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and last month's overthrow of Tunisia's leader, have led many to ask which country could be next in the Arab world, with its flammable mix of authoritarian rule and popular anger.

Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy since it is a major oil and gas exporter, but many analysts say an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to placate most grievances.

Saturday's protest, though large by Algerian standards, did not appear to have captured the imagination of large numbers of people.

Widespread discontent with joblessness, poor housing conditions and high food prices sparked rioting in early January across the country. But there is so far no sign that this dissatisfaction is coalescing into a political movement.

Local media say President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is preparing to make wholesale changes in his government line-up, a move which could relieve some of the pressure on his administration.

"What happened in Tunisia and Egypt is not likely to happen here," Nacer Jabi, an Algerian sociologist said as he watched the protest on Saturday. "This march shows ... that the parties are unable to mobilize the crowds."

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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