Pro-Democracy Marchers Stage Algeria Protest

From Reuters

Tens of thousands of Algerians, watched by riot police, marched through Algiers on Thursday protesting last week's landslide vote for the Islamic fundamentalist party that calls democracy an aberration.

The Islamic Salvation Front won 188 seats outright in the first round and needs to win just 28 more seats in the next round Jan. 16 to have a parliamentary majority.

Algerian democrats fear the Islamic Front will establish the Koran-based law of sharia in this Mediterranean nation and take revolutionary Iran as its model for Algerian government.

"We are all together to make democracy live and anchor democracy" in Algeria, said Socialist Forces Front leader Hocine Ait Ahmed, organizer of the protest march.

Journalists estimated that 200,000 people took part in the march, while organizers claimed nearly 1 million. Police put the figure at 135,000.

Ait Ahmed, whose party took 25 seats, said he called the march to administer an "electric shock" to sleeping Algerians--a reference to the 5.4 million eligible voters who cast no ballots in the first round.

Islamic Front candidates tapped the disaffection of youth and garnered 3.2 million votes in the first round. The party, which first opposed elections, has candidates in nearly every contest in the Jan. 16 runoff.

Only two other parties won seats in the first round. The Socialist Forces Front won 25, and the former ruling National Liberation Front won 15 seats.

Thursday, despite a festive air of balloons, children, cheers and laughter, marchers freely voiced their fears.

Banners with slogans like "For a Free and Happy Algeria," "Against the Forces of Sadness" and "To Defend Democracy" waved beneath towering port cranes nearby.

"The democratic process cannot end with the result bringing the end of democracy," said Zohra Drif, wife of a former Speaker of Parliament, as the march started.

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