Thousands protest in Algeria, hoping to rekindle mass demos

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KHERRATA, Algeria (Reuters) - Thousands of people demonstrated on Tuesday in the Algerian town of Kherrata to voice support for the Hirak protest movement that ousted Algeria's veteran president in 2019 before the COVID-19 crisis forced it off the streets last year.

More than 5,000 protesters chanted: "A civilian state, not a military state" and "The gang must go" as they waved Algerian flags.

Tuesday's protest was held to mark the second anniversary of the start of demonstrations in 2019, which began in Kherrata, east of the capital Algiers, before spreading across the country.

"We came to revive the Hirak that was stopped for health reasons. They didn't stop us. We stopped because we care for our people. Today coronavirus is over and we will get the Hirak back," said Nassima, a protester.

The Hirak movement demanded a complete removal of Algeria's entrenched political elite and continued to mobilise tens of thousands of protesters every week even after Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down from the presidency.

His successor, Abdelmadjid Tebboube, elected in December 2019 in a vote that Hirak supporters dismissed as a charade, has publicly praised the movement while seeking to move past it with limited concessions including tweaks to the constitution.

The weekly mass protests stopped a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lockdown to Algeria.

While the protest movement has no clear leadership, its supporters have repeatedly discussed online how to rekindle its presence on the streets as an active force to press for change.

"It is a revolutionary process for a very precise goal, which is the departure of the regime, the whole regime with all its components," said Hamid, a protester.

(Reporting by Reuters Algeria newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Angus MacSwan)