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Algeria detains opposition activist in new sign of clampdown

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ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algerian authorities have arrested Fodil Boumala, a prominent opposition activist and anti-government protester, fellow activists and a lawyer said on Thursday.

Boumala’s arrest on Wednesday night, though not immediately confirmed by the justice ministry, was the latest sign of a new clampdown on dissent following the detention of three other leading opposition activists in recent weeks.

The authorities are trying to quell a mass protest movement that began in February, forced veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit in April and is pressing demands for a thorough purge of the old ruling elite.

Interim president Abdelkader Bensalah on Sunday called an election for December. Protesters have rejected the move, saying any election that goes ahead while the old guard holds power cannot be free or fair.

Earlier on Wednesday, army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Saleh ordered security forces to stop and confiscate any vehicles being used to bring protesters into the capital Algiers.

His order and the arrests mark an increase of pressure on the protesters along with a heavier police presence at demonstrations.

The authorities had earlier responded to protesters’ demands over corruption by detaining and charging several prominent officials and businessmen with allegations of graft.

The three other activists recently detained were Lakhdar Bouragaa, Karim Tabou and Samir Belarbi, who have been accused of “contributing to weakening the army’s morale” according to their lawyers.

(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi, editing by Angus McDowall and Timothy Heritage)

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