Algeria's anti-election protesters keep up the pressure

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ALGIERS — Protesters thronged the Algerian capital for the 40th consecutive week on Friday as they railed against next month's presidential election they say will only keep the old guard in power.

They allege the Dec. 12 poll aims to cement the place of a political elite linked to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who stepped down in April after popular pressure.

Five candidates are contesting the election after the ailing Bouteflika, 82, was forced out after mass demonstrations erupted in February against his bid for a fifth term.

Algeria has seen weekly protests since then demanding major reforms to a political system that has been in place since independence from France in 1962.

"We demand freedom and will not take one step backwards!" protesters chanted in Algiers Friday before the crowd dispersed peacefully in the mid-afternoon.

Online reports said demonstrations also took place in several other towns.

"Nine months ago we marched to prevent Bouteflika from dying in the president's chair, and we will keep marching until the end of his regime," said 29-year-old Rachid.

The protesters are demanding the establishment of transitional institutions to replace the current authorities.

They reject any involvement of powerful army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algeria's main post-Bouteflika powerbroker who has led the push for presidential polls by the end of 2019.

"Chuck the generals into the bin and Algeria will become independent!" chanted protesters, denouncing the army high command's involvement in politics since 1962.

"Get out, Gaid Salah! There will be no vote this year!" demonstrators shouted of the man who since April has advised interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and the government of Prime Minister Nourredine Bedoui.

All five candidates seeking to replace Bouteflika are known to have links to him.

They include former premiers Ali Benflis, 75, and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 73, who are considered the two front-runners.

The others include Azzedine Mihoubi, head of the Democratic National Rally party (RND), the main ally of Bouteflika's party.

There are also Islamist ex-tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina, whose party backed Bouteflika, and Abdelaziz Belaid, a member of a youth organization that also supported the former president.

Authorities arrested more than 80 people during a night-time protest in the capital on Thursday, a prisoners' rights group said.

The CNLD prisoners' rights committee said most of those detained were taken to police stations in the suburbs of Algiers.

Hundreds had turned out for the second night in a row to voice their anger over the presidential poll.

They did so hours after an examining magistrate charged 29 people arrested during a similar protest on Wednesday with holding an "unauthorized gathering".

Dozens of people have been arrested since the election campaign began last Sunday. Four were sentenced on Monday to 18 months in jail and 14 received suspended terms for disrupting a meeting.

"This is a campaign of repression, not an election campaign," chanted protesters seen in video footage released online Friday by the independent news site TSA. — AFP


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