'Orange Vest' volunteers in Algeria help mediate between police and protesters

Photos of volunteers in orange vests circulated on social media. At right, a photo published by Twitter user @khaleddrareni.
Photos of volunteers in orange vests circulated on social media. At right, a photo published by Twitter user @khaleddrareni.

Protesters in Algeria have poured into the streets every Friday for the last two months as they call for an end to the country's political regime. In Alger-Centre, in the country's capital of Algiers, a group of volunteers are now donning orange vests in a bid to minimise clashes between demonstrators and the police.

Tourfik Amrane, an Algerian journalist currently based in Canada, came up with the project after seeing the April 12 protests in Algiers turn violent. Demonstrators near the Tunnel des Facultés threw rocks at security forces, who then used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Protesters inside the tunnel rushed to escape, causing a small panic.

Amrane, a foreign correspondent for Algerian news outlets, was passing through Algiers at the time and said he hoped that having a dedicated group of volunteers act as mediators would help de-escalate similar situations in the future.

I started talking to my friends in Algeria the day after the April 12 clashes, and they were immediately interested. We raised enough money to buy 200 orange vests, and people including journalists, students and doctors began reaching out after learning about the project on social media.

The following Friday, April 19, we all gathered in the centre of town and went over to the tunnel, which had been blocked off by police. We went up and held hands, making a human chain between the riot police and the protesters.

Orange Vest volunteers make a human chain at the entrance of the Tunnel des Facultés in Algiers on April 19.

A handful of people didn't want us there, but most of the protesters welcomed our initiative. A lot of them asked if they could join in! Others reached out on Facebook after seeing pictures on social media. They're of course all welcome.

Orange Vests volunteers help mediate between protesters and police officers on Mohamed V Boulevard in Algiers on April 19.

I’m not the only person to come up with an idea like this. There have been similar initiatives in other neighbourhoods with people wearing orange vests to act as a buffer between the police and protesters. I think it’s great!

Twitter user @khaleddrareni said there was "unexplained" police presence near the Tunnel des Facultés in Algiers on April 19 and announced that people in orange vests with the word #silmiya, or peaceful, would help keep protesters safe.

Former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2 after a 20-year reign, bowing to weeks of mass protests. An election is to be held on July 4. But protesters continue gather weekly, calling for a complete overhaul of the political establishment. Authorities have also launched several investigations into alleged corruption by close business associates of Bouteflika.

This story was written by Djamel Belayachi.