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Algeria: Student doctors boycott exams in stand against conscription

Algerian police in riot gear dispersed resident doctors protesting in Algiers on January 3, 2018
Algerian police disperse resident doctors protesting in Algiers, Algeria on 3 January 2018

Algeria's Health Minister, Mokhtar Hazbellaoui, has called for dialogue with the country's doctors following a weekend of protests.

Hazbellaoui expressed his readiness to speak to the doctors "to find solutions to their demands".

Nearly 500 Algerian doctors gathered yesterday at the Moustapha Bacha Hospital in Algiers – the scene of the first sit-in last week where protesters were prevented with force from taking to the streets by security forces.

Resident doctors have led a general strike in university hospitals for the last two months calling for the repeal of compulsory civil service, which can last five years, and conscription as well as better working conditions.

In the city of Constantine, resident doctors, pharmacists and dentists took part in a march from the Ibn Badiss Hospital to the city centre, according to the Algerian press agency.

Over a thousand were reported to have taken part in the demonstration and no reports of violence were recorded.

Read: Police clash with doctors protesting in Algiers

According to the Directorate General of National Security, authorities "only implemented the regulation" of prohibiting demonstrations in the capital last week but not in other cities like Constantine.

On its Facebook page, the Algerian representative of Amnesty International denounced the repression of the protesters and added that the right to demonstrate is "guaranteed by the Algerian Constitution".

For several years, doctors have been protesting against the current conditions of their course specifications and employment. In Algeria, any doctor who has completed six years of specialisation in hospitals must practice for two to four years in remote areas of the country.

Male doctors are then required to complete one year of military service which is compulsory for all men in the country which the protesters have demanded be removed.

According to Hazbellaoui, "the civil service [was] more than necessary" for doctors to undergo but promised "to lighten and develop the civil service by improving working conditions".

In support of the latest protest, paediatric residents yesterday boycotted their end of year exams. The amphitheatres of the Department of Medicine of Algiers that were to host the examinations were deserted by the doctors who gathered in the enclosure of the faculty in protest.

The Autonomous Collective of Algerian Resident Doctors (CAMRA) called the action a success. In a statement released yesterday, the group explained that the boycott will include "all the tests of the normal session of January 2018, all specialties together, until [there is] satisfaction".

"For the first time in the history of medicine in Algeria, there will be no new assistants in 2018," Dr Taileb Mohamed, resident and member of the national bureau of CAMRA, added.

According to Mohamed, "a complaint will be filed shortly against the aggressors" in last week's protest where 40 doctors were wounded; 20 seriously.

The national council of the order of doctors has also decided to "prosecute the perpetrators of the attacks [at the rally on 3 January]," according to the Council's president.

Lawyers have reportedly also volunteered to defend the cause of the doctors in court and assist them in their complaint procedure, according to Mohamed.

CAMRA has called for another national gathering tomorrow at the Hospital Centre and University of Oran. The event is expected to bring together residents of several regions in the country.

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