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Algeria protest march blocked

THOUSANDS of police in riot gear blocked off the centre of Algeria's capital yesterday and stopped government opponents from staging a protest march that sought to emulate Egypt's popular revolt.

Small groups of demonstrators gathered in May 1 Square in the city centre shouting "Bouteflika out!", a reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. They waved newspaper front pages declaring Friday's overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. But riot police hemmed them in, stopping them from carrying out a plan to march through the city.

Other protesters trying to reach the square found their way blocked and at least one of the protest organisers was arrested. "It is a state of siege," said Abdeslam Ali Rachedi, a university lecturer and government opponent. Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy because it is a major oil and gas exporter.

Officials had cited public order concerns for the decision to ban the march.

A spokesman for the opposition RCD party said police had arrested 1,000 demonstrators. An Interior Ministry statement said 14 people were detained and immediately released.

Mr Mubarak's resignation, and last month's overthrow of Tunisia's leader, have electrified the Arab world and led many to ask which state could be next in a region where an explosive mix of authoritarian rule and popular anger is the norm.

Responding to opposition pressure, government officials said they were working hard to create more jobs and promised more democratic freedoms including the lifting of a state of emergency in force for 19 years.

Sunday Independent