ALGIERS (Reuters) – Protesters opposing the election that Algeria’s veteran ruling cadre has set for December took to the streets of the capital on Friday seeking the release of a detained opposition figure, as two recent premiers said they would run for president.
Weekly demonstrations since February have demanded that the old guard who have held power since independence from France in 1962 leave power, resisting both pressure and concessions aimed at getting them off the streets.
The protesters managed to dislodge president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April, but their numbers have dropped from hundreds of thousands during the spring to tens of thousands now.
The authorities have detained numerous senior officials on suspicion of corruption, one of the main complaints of the protesters, and on Wednesday sentenced two former intelligence chiefs and Bouteflika’s brother to long prison terms.
Police have meanwhile put more pressure on protesters with a bigger presence at the demonstrations and with the arrest of prominent opposition figures.
One, Karim Tabbou, was detained last week, then released on Wednesday and re-arrested on Thursday, his lawyer said. Protesters have held up placards demanding his release.
The demonstrators oppose an election called for December and backed by the army, which has emerged as the most powerful player, saying it cannot be free or fair while so many members of Bouteflika’s establishment remain in power.
On Thursday, former prime ministers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune said they would run in the Dec. 12 vote.
Benflis, 75, won 12.3% in the 2014 presidential election and leads the Talae al-Huriyat opposition party, but also served as Bouteflika’s prime minister from 2000 to 2003.
Tebboune, 74, was prime minister for 81 days in 2017 but was sacked by Bouteflika after a clash with influential businessmen.
The army, the strongest and most influential institution in a country with huge oil and gas reserves, sees the election as the only way to overcome the deadlock. Algerians are polarised between those who want an election held under the current ruling cadre and those who do not.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Kevin Liffey)