Anti-Government Protests Reverberate in Algerian Soccer Federation

Mounting popular rejection of widespread abuse of power that is spilling on to the streets of Algerian cities is reverberating within the Algerian Football Federation (FAF) amid allegations of embezzlement against its president, Mohammed Raouraoua.

The allegations raised by crowned soccer club Jeunesse Kabylie (JSK) come as thousands of security forces in the capital Algiers prevented protests and arrested 250 demonstrators.

The demonstrations were inspired by the success on Friday of Egyptian protesters in forcing President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in office and last month’s toppling of Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali.

Algeria last month suspended professional soccer matches in the wake of protests against rising commodity prices and authoritarian rule. FAF last week cancelled a friendly against Tunisia allegedly because no stadium was available for the match.

The protests sweeping across North Africa threaten the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria and Egypt backed by Tunisia set to ask the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for a postponement of matches scheduled for March because of the turmoil.

Reports from Tizi-Ouzou, JSK’s home town in predominantly Berber eastern Algeria, said security forces had deployed in the region in anticipation of anti-government protests. Demonstrators were reported to have taken to the streets of Bejala Kabyle. Berbers account for approximately one third of Algeria’s population.

JSK President Mohand-Cherif Hannachi accused Algerian soccer federation chief Raouraoua of embezzling $160,000 Confederation of African Football had sent to JSK for its participation in the African Champions League.

Hannachi and Raouraoua are locked into a bitter fight involving legal claims and counterclaims and Hannachi is seeking to thwart the FAF president’s efforts to be appointed to the executive of FIFA, soccer’s world body.

The feud predates Algeria’s escalating political crisis but is likely to feature in Berber demands for greater cultural and linguistic rights that are certain to be fuelled by the escalating Algerian protests demanding an end to authoritarian rule and greater rights.

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