* About 200 teachers in protest vigil outside president's HQ
* Protest is one of dozens around Algerian capital
* Government fears Arab revolts will reach Algeria
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, March 29 For nearly two weeks Algerian
schoolteacher Hamou Benhamou has spent his days protesting
outside the presidential administration and his nights sleeping
on a strip of cardboard on the pavement.
The sit-in that Benhamou is holding with about 200 other
teachers is one of dozens of protests around the Algerian
capital which have unsettled a government wary that unrest
elsewhere in the Arab world will spread to Algiers.
The government's tactic so far has been to promise political
reform, but also to give handouts to groups who strike or
protest, usually over pay and conditions. This has encouraged
more demonstrations. [ID:nCHI329866]
"Everybody's had a pay rise. Why not us? We are teachers,"
asked Benhamou, 31, who travelled to the protest by bus from his
home in Bordj Badji Mokhtar, a town in the Sahara desert about
2,000 km (1,240 miles) from Algiers.
"We are educating the young so we deserve a minimum of
Benhamou is part of a broader wave of protests and strikes
that has become a daily phenomenon across all sectors of the
economy and all strata of society -- though to date they have
not challenged the government's grip on power.
Legal clerks, blind people, oil workers, Muslim clerics,
students, doctors, military veterans, municipal police officers
and government drivers have all staged protests.
During the day, Benhamou and the other protesters stand on
the pavement diagonally opposite from the president's El
Mouradia chanting slogans including "Dignity equals a decent
salary!" and "We are teachers, respect us!"
The protesters are usually surrounded by about 300 police in
riot gear, while there are a dozen police vans parked nearby.
At around 1 p.m. each day, Benhamou and his fellow
protesters -- who include several women -- try to push past the
police cordon and block the road between them and the
On Monday, when they tried to block the road, the police
used force to stop them, protesters said. The following day, one
person had a leg in plaster, another had a bruise on his face.
When darkness falls, they lay out their cardboard mats,
spread out their blankets, and sleep on the pavement.
They eat bread and cheese bought in nearby shops and local
residents sometimes give them food. The owner of a garage lets
them use the toilets and gives them access to water for washing.
The protesters are some of Algeria's 20,000 substitute
teachers who work on temporary contracts, many of them for
years. They want their status changed so they can have the same
salary and benefits as full-time teachers.
Another protester, Mohamed Messaoudi, 34, travelled from
Adrar region, 1,200 km from the capital. He said local officials
told him they could not help with his demands, and the only way
to be heard was to travel to Algiers.
"The problems are always solved at the central level.
Locally nobody cares about us. This is why we are here at the
presidency," said Messaoudi who teaches Arabic in the village of
Talmine, 70 km from the town of Adrar.
"I have been working as a part-time teacher for seven years
now with a salary of 19,000 Algerian dinars ($264) ", he said.
He said he hoped that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would
notice them from his office window. "We do not trust anybody but
the president. This is why we are here," Messaoudi said.
However, if Bouteflika, 74, has heard them, he has not
responded. He has not made a speech or been shown speaking in
public for three months, prompting calls from some of his
political allies for him to break his silence.
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)