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Protesters clash with police in Algerian capital

Ryad Kramdi, AFP | This picture taken on April 12, 2019, shows an elevated view of the scene of clashes between Algerian protesters and riot police during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers.

Hundreds of youths clashed with police in central Algiers Friday, hurling back tear gas grenades fired by security forces attempting to disperse demonstrators. Dozens of police were injured and more than 100 demonstrators arrested.

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While the vast march in the centre of the Algerian capital was largely calm, tensions were noticeably higher than at previous rallies, and clashes erupted between the young protesters and police towards the end of the protest.

Several protesters were slightly hurt, injured by stones or in the ensuing scuffles, or suffered the effects of tear gas.

The police said 83 of its personnel were wounded, including four seriously hurt.

It put the violence down to “delinquents” infiltrating the crowds, and said 108 people had been arrested.

Other protesters stepped in to calm the tensions, with some kneeling in the streets, raising their hands in peace.

As the crowd dispersed, protesters blamed “troublemakers” for the violence, also criticising the toughening stance by police, who have reduced the area in which the demonstrations are allowed.

Algerian protesters had gathered for the first Friday demonstrations since the announcement of presidential elections to succeed ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, fearing a government ploy to stay in power.

Social media, the source of mass protests that led to the end of Bouteflika’s two-decade rule, echoed with calls for an eighth week of demonstrations, this time under the slogan of “They will all leave”.

“On Friday, we’ll show them what it means when we cry out, ‘Go away!’” said Walid, 22, near the principal protest site outside the landmark main post office in central Algiers.

Presidential elections are to be held on July 4, interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah’s office announced on Wednesday, just hours after he pledged “transparent” polls.

Algeria’s next in line: Bouteflika loyalist Abdelkader Bensalah

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 77-year-old Bensalah 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?” asked Walid.

‘They don’t know what’s coming'

For the first time since the anti-Bouteflika protest movement was launched in mid-February, police vehicles and forces have blocked off access to the post office.

But 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.

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 that of the Bouteflika regime.

Bensalah has received the implicit support of the army whose chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah withdrew his backing for Bouteflika, prompting his resignation on April 2.

But the general has stood up for the defence of Algeria’s institutions and warned against the “unrealistic slogans” of protesters aiming to sweep away the whole ruling system.

For the first time in the wave of demonstrations that have swept Algiers, police fired tear gas and water cannons on Tuesday to try to disperse a protest by students.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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