WED 19 - 2 - 2020
Apr 13, 2019
The Daily Star
Algeria protests defy police to keep up pressure on regime
ALGIERS: Hundreds of youths clashed with police in central Algiers Friday, hurling back tear gas grenades fired by security forces attempting to disperse demonstrators. For the eighth Friday in a row, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the Algerian capital’s main streets, despite the announcement of presidential elections to succeed ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
While the vast march in the city center was largely calm, tensions were noticeably higher than at previous rallies, and clashes erupted between the young protesters and police toward the end of the rally. Police said they arrested 108 people and 27 policemen were injured.
An AP team saw people in Audin Square throwing rocks and bottles at police, who responded with tear gas then what appeared to be rubber bullets, emptying the square.
Police sprayed water repeatedly on a huge crowd on Didouche Mourad Street in Algiers, on the route toward the central post office that has become a symbol of the movement.
Young protesters were undeterred.
“We will be out in large numbers, very large. They don’t know what’s coming. They won’t be able to do anything against us,” said Yassine, 23.
Earlier in the day, dozens of police were encircled by hundreds of demonstrators, who called to protest against alleged maneuvering by the regime to stay in power. The crowd, shouting “silmiya, silmiya” (peaceful, peaceful), cleared a path for the police to pull back as the demonstrators urged the officers to join their protest.
Presidential elections are to be held on July 4, interim leader Abdel-Kader Bensalah’s office announced Wednesday, just hours after he pledged “transparent” polls.
The new date was set a day after Bensalah assumed office for a 90-day period, as stipulated by the constitution but much to the ire of demonstrators.
The appointment of Upper House Speaker Bensalah as Algeria’s first new president in 20 years has failed to meet the demands of demonstrators.
Although the 77-year-old is barred under the constitution from running in the upcoming election, protesters have nonetheless pushed for the close Bouteflika ally to step down.
Students and magistrates have called for renewed rallies and marches in the capital and other cities across the North African country.
“I’m not going to vote. What for?” Walid asked.
For Mahrez Bouich, a philosophy professor at the University of Bejaia, east of Algiers, “the July 4 election has already been rejected by the people, which also refuses Bensalah’s nomination.”
The demonstrators argue that elections cannot be free and fair if they are held under the same judicial framework and institutions as those of the Bouteflika regime. Bensalah has received the implicit support of the army whose chief Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah withdrew his backing for Bouteflika, prompting the president’s resignation on April 2.
But the general has stood up for the defense of Algeria’s existing institutions and warned against the “unrealistic slogans” of protesters aiming to sweep away the whole ruling system.
Mohamed Hennad, a political sciences professor at the University of Algiers, said “the balance of forces will favor the street if it’s a large mobilization Friday” as in past weeks.
Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who served as interior minister until Bouteflika appointed him premier on March 11, has promised an independent electoral commission.
But he too has been a target of protesters’ ire.
Candidates are not rushing to take part in a system rejected by the vast majority of Algerians.
The country’s long-marginalized opposition parties do not appear to be gearing up for polls either, particularly if they cannot guarantee the election will be free and fair.
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