Boycott rallies rock Algeria day before presidential poll

Algiers (AFP) –


Algerian police violently dispersed an anti-vote protest in Algiers Wednesday, on the eve of a widely unpopular presidential election.

As a helicopter flew overhead, more than 200 anti-riot police charged protesters assembled outside the capital's central post office, injuring at least eight people, an AFP journalist said.

About 30 protesters were arrested, the journalist said.

Several hundred protesters later returned to the post office -- which has been the rallying point of the "Hirak" anti-government protest movement since February -- prompting further arrests.

Since the protest movement forced the resignation of ageing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April, weekly demonstrations across the country have continued to demand sweeping reforms ahead of elections.

Meriem, a 62-year-old Algiers resident, marched with her daughter and daughter-in-law brandishing red cards to oppose an election perceived as a regime ploy to cling to power.

"I'm marching to say no to the vote, no to the Bouteflika system without Bouteflika," she said.

For her daughter Fatma Zohra, "this is our last chance before the passing of power with this vote".

The five approved candidates in Thursday's election all either supported Bouteflika or participated in his government, including two as prime ministers.

Demonstrators also chanted slogans against powerful army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as Algeria's de facto strongman since Bouteflika's resignation and is a champion of Thursday's election.

Algeria's powerful military has exercised power from the shadows since independence in 1962, and analysts say commanders are hoping to use the vote to install a "civilian facade".

Wednesday marked the anniversary of the outbreak of major demonstrations against French colonial power in Algeria in 1960, and calls online urged protesters to converge on the Algiers square commemorating it.

Protests have been illegal in Algiers since 2001 and police have only tolerated weekly Hirak protests on Fridays and student marches on Tuesdays.

Demonstrators opposed to the election also rallied in the provincial cities of Bouira, Tizi-Ouzou, Tlemcen and Constantine, according to local media.

Protesters in Algiers vowed to continue demonstrating on Thursday.