Algerians rally for change despite dozens detained

Algiers (AFP) –


Large crowds of Algerians on Friday took to the streets of the capital, where dozens were detained ahead of the latest protest two months after leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned.

Demonstrators filled avenues in central Algiers chanting slogans against a push to hold presidential elections in July and rejecting calls by the armed forces chief for dialogue.

"No elections with this gang in power," the crowd shouted.

Protesters are looking to keep up the pressure on the North African state's ruling elite with weekly rallies despite the end of Bouteflika's two-decade rule.

Police had earlier rounded up some 50 people, mainly young men, in the heart of Algiers ahead of the planned protest.

Those detained had their IDs and mobile phones confiscated and were loaded into vans, an AFP journalist reported.

Demonstrators taking to the streets are demanding the resignation of all those tainted by ties to the former regime.

Local journalists reported that people were out in force in the country's other biggest cities of Oran, Constantine and Annaba.

Armed forces chief Ahmed Gaid Salah has become the main powerbroker after he turned on his boss Bouteflika and helped ease him from office in the face of the mass protests.

He is pushing for elections on July 4 but demonstrators insist there must be a wholesale change of top officials before a new vote can be held.

Only two little-known figures have submitted their candidacies on time for the disputed poll, raising doubts about plans to stage it.

The Constitutional Council has until June 5 to decide whether to approve the two hopefuls, who need the backing of at least 600 elected officials or 60,000 voters to get on the ballot.

The rallies that erupted across the country in February after Bouteflika announced plans to seek a new term have largely been tolerated by security officials overwhelmed by the vast crowds.

Last Friday the police made numerous arrests in central Algiers of protesters carrying placards and the national flag.

The crowd this week held a minute's silence for human rights campaigner Kamel Eddine Fekhar before breaking into chants blaming the authorities for his death in custody on Tuesday.

Fekhar, an activist from the Mozabite Berber minority, was being held in pre-trial detention for "attacks on institutions" and had been on hunger strike since March.

The justice ministry said it was probing his death after his lawyer complained he had been kept in "inhumane conditions".