ALGIERS — Medical residents at the University of Algiers have been on strike since mid-November, taking to the streets surrounding the medical campus in the western suburb of Ben Aknoun. The Algerian students are demanding changes to a system that forces them to work in far-flung corners of the country after they gain their medical license, in addition to a year of mandatory military service for all men.
But this past week, as reported by Algiers-based daily El Watan, these long-running protests were met with a swift and violent response by Algerian security forces, leaving several students injured. Riot police units had fanned out across the area since the early morning, placing a security cordon in anticipation of a large protest. Once the protest was underway, witnesses reported seeing plainclothes policemen beating medical students near the campus as the situation turned more violent. Security forces took several doctors and students into custody, seizing their phones and documents.
The Autonomous Collective of Algerian Medical Residents (CAMRA), the organization behind the strike, denounced the police response in a statement released to El Watan. "We call for everyone in the healthcare system, from teachers to assistant professors, to take a stand against the violence and contempt faced by their fellow medical residents in the last few months," the statement read.
The arrested students were released from nearby police stations, but CAMRA vowed to continue the strike and an associated boycott of specialized medical exams scheduled to start the same day. After the failure of talks between CAMRA and representatives from the ministry of higher education last week, the students still on strike will effectively fail their exams. CAMRA pledged to continue the boycott for the entire exam season, which is set to end on April 19. Along with a change in military and medical service requirements, the students also are seeking revisions to the medical school's statute and training process.
Despite the boycott, the ministry refused to postpone the exams and confirmed they would go on as planned. "Medical residents involved in the boycott must take full responsibility," said Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister Tahar Hadjar.
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