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Dozens arrested as Algerian protesters demand cancellation of December vote

Protesters in Algeria carry a national flag while demanding that a presidential election next month be cancelled until the ruling guard step aside and the army quit politics, in Algiers, Algeria, November 29, 2019.
Protesters in Algeria carry a national flag while demanding that a presidential election next month be cancelled until the ruling guard step aside and the army quit politics, in Algiers, Algeria, November 29, 2019. Ramzi Boudina/REUTERS

Algerians thronged their capital Friday to insist that a presidential election set for December 12 must not go ahead before a change of regime.

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Protesters fear the poll will cement in power politicians close to ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit in April under popular pressure after two decades as head of state.

The five candidates standing in the December poll all either supported the former leader or took part in his government.

"There will be no vote!" demonstrators chanted on Friday. "We swear we will not stop!"

They denounced an official crackdown on the so-called "Hirak" movement that has shaken the country with months of unprecedented protests.

Security forces, both uniformed and plain-clothed, flooded Algiers for the 41st consecutive Friday of demonstrations, deploying water cannon and anti-barricade vehicles.

"This is intimidation! Why so many police vehicles? We're protesting peacefully and are against violence," said Tassadit Ourabeh, 64.

At least 25 people were arrested before Friday's march, AFP journalists said.

Police also used tear gas against young protesters outside a police station, witnesses said.

On Thursday, a European Parliament resolution said MEPs "strongly condemn the arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detainment of, attacks on and intimidations of journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, students, human rights defenders and civil society and all peaceful protesters".

The Algerian authorities reacted by denouncing what it called "flagrant interference in its internal affairs" and a "disregard" for the country's institutions.

The protesters fear that a regime in power since the former French colony's independence in 1962 seeks to preserve its grip on the country.

As polling day approaches, positions on both sides are hardening, sparking fears of more radical measures.

"There is still strong mobilisation and an especially strong determination to reject the election," Said Salhi of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights told AFP.

No opinion polls have been published that indicate the likely turnout.

Despite the slogans, some demonstrators said they were still considering casting a ballot.

"I'm going to vote because we have to move on. If the new president doesn't keep his commitments then we'll be out on the street" again, said Djawida, a 50-year-old nurse.

But Tassadit was adamant that she would not vote.

"I might have voted if there was a candidate who was not part of the system, but there's no question" of that, she said.

Retiree Said Bensalem, 66, said: "I'm against this vote, because it is Bouteflika men who are standing and other Bouteflika men organising and monitoring the poll."

Protesters see all five candidates as accomplices to the military elite which has assumed de facto power since Bouteflika's resignation.

(AFP)

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