Tue, 10 Dec 2019

Demonstrators thronged the streets of the Algerian capital on Friday to renew their opposition to a presidential election they say will keep in power a political elite rejected by the people.

The protest came two days ahead of the start of campaigning for the December 12 vote.

Demonstrations have gripped Algeria every week since February when protesters flooded the streets of the capital and major cities against former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing Bouteflika stepped down in April under pressure from the street.

Powerful army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the country's main powerbroker in the post-Bouteflika era, has led a push for presidential polls by the end of 2019, after an earlier date was missed because no candidates came forward.

"The elections will not take place," chanted the protesters."

"How do you expect people to go and vote when the candidates are all offspring of the system?" asked pensioner Malika Benabderahmane.

Echoing many of her fellow protesters, she said the current field of presidential candidates would all seek to carry on Bouteflika's policies and "make promises and promises that will never be kept".

Her cousin Aisha said next month's election would turn out to be the biggest abstention-hit poll since Algeria gained its independence from France in 1962 "because voters will stay away".

Last week, the constitutional council said five candidates had been selected to run out of 23 who had registered for the poll.

Among those cleared to run, Bouteflika-era prime ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune are considered the frontrunners.

'Peas in a pod'

Benflis, 75, held the post of premier under Bouteflika from 2000 to 2003, while Tebboune, 73, also served as Bouteflika's communications minister.

The other candidates are: Azzedine Mihoubi, head of the Democratic National Rally party (RND) the main ally of the former president's party; Islamist ex-tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina, whose party backed Bouteflika; Abdelaziz Belaid, a member of a youth organisation that also supported Bouteflika.

"They're all like peas in a pod. All of them belong to Bouteflika's circle," said Kamel Benmohamed, a lawyer in his 60s.

Protesters are opposed to any Bouteflika-era figures taking part in the election.

They have been holding demonstrations, on Fridays and Tuesdays, since February to demand sweeping reforms, an overhaul of the political system and an end to corruption.

Since Bouteflika's resignation, several members of his inner circle have been arrested and investigated, several on allegations of graft.

The ex-president's brother, Said Bouteflika, was sentenced in September to 15 years in jail for "undermining the authority of the army" and "conspiring" against the state.

At the start of the latest protest in Algiers, around 100 journalists took to the streets to condemn alleged "threats" by the authorities targeting the media.

The participants wore white arm bands marked "free journalist".

On Monday, a group of 300 Algerian journalists posted a joint statement on Facebook.

"We demand that authorities stop imposing censorship on private and public media and stop undermining media freedoms," the statement said.

Authorities have arrested around 100 people, including protesters, activists and journalists, since June, according to a defence committee for detainees.

Activists, for their part, have complained that public media have been colluding with authorities

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