ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Hundreds of Algerian police officers sealed off avenues in the capital on Tuesday to prevent an opposition demonstration against plans to drill for shale gas in the south of the country.
A few dozen opposition activists were able to briefly demonstrate near the rally site in Algiers chanting "Algeria Free and Democratic" before being detained. There were reports of demonstrations elsewhere in the country, especially in the south that is most affected by plans to drill.
"Today we succeeded in bringing out hundreds of police instead of citizens," Islamist opposition leader Abderazak Mukri told The Associated Press blocks away from the protest site that he was prevented from reaching by police. "All these police demonstrate the fear of the state."
In front of the main post office where a coalition of Islamist and liberal parties had called for the demonstration, the government instead sponsored a folkloric dance troop.
Tuesday marks the 44th anniversary of the nationalization of the oil industry and the opposition coalition had hoped to use the occasion to protest the negative environmental effects of exploitation plentiful shale gas reserves.
Inhabits of In Salah, deep in Algeria's southern deserts, have been protesting against the shale gas wells dug nearby for the past six weeks
"Oil, natural gas and shale gas, as well as renewable energy are all gifts from God and it is our duty to use them for ourselves and future generations while ensuring the health of the people and the protection of the environment," said a speech by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika read out for him by an aide on the occasion of the anniversary.
Bouteflika is in poor health and rarely makes public appearances. Algeria relies almost entirely on its oil, but shrinking reserves and dropping prices have threatened the economy.