Thousands of auxiliary police marched in Algiers on Monday to demand pay raises, breaking through heavy security to reach parliament in a rare mass show of dissent in the tightly controlled country.
The policemen, estimated by organizers to number around 20,000 and by reporters to be 10,000, braved a ban on demonstrations in the Algerian capital and pushed through several security cordons to reach the National Assembly.
They were quickly surrounded by regular police dispatched to the scene of the protest.
The men, many of them in uniform, demanded Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika bring their salaries and conditions in line with those of other security services, retroactive to 2008, chanting: “Bouteflika is the solution.”
The protesters dispersed peacefully after agreeing to the establishment of a commission that would look into the corps’ demands, a negotiator said after talks with Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia.
The commission will comprise three representatives of the auxiliary police, one from the interior ministry and one each from the police and gendarmerie, he said.
Algeria’s auxiliary police, numbering about 94,000 men, operate in the country’s villages as part of a program set up in 1994 when the government was battling Islamist rebel groups.
“We only have the right to 21 days of leave a year. We take part in security sweeps without helmets or bullet-proof jackets,” one protester said.
According to the demonstrators, about 4,400 auxiliary policemen have been killed since 1994 in violence involving armed Islamists.
Emboldened by popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world, Algeria’s opposition has attempted to stage several anti-Bouteflika protests in the capital, in defiance of the ban on demonstrating in the city, but have been thwarted.
On Saturday the latest attempt to protest against Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, was foiled when police surrounded protesters and counter-demonstrators chanted “Bouteflika is not Mubarak.”
In a bid to appease simmering public anger, Bouteflika, 73, promised last month to place the fight against corruption at the heart of government action.
Bouteflika also promised a raft of reforms meant to boost the economy, employment and housing.
He also lifted martial law for the first time in 19 years.