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Protesters out in force ahead of Algeria's presidential election

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Algerians have been protesting against the upcoming elections
Algerians have been protesting against the upcoming elections   -   Copyright  Reuters
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Protesters have been out in force ahead of Algeria’s presidential election on Thursday, arguing it offers no real choice to the public.

In the wake of months of demonstrations, two former prime ministers and other senior political figures were jailed for corruption, in an apparent attempt to calm protests.

However the capital Algiers was rocked by student protesters on Tuesday, chanting “we will not vote” and “we want freedom”.

Why protesters don’t want the election to go ahead

After mass demonstrations began in February, protesters forced out former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April. However they don’t see their mission as complete.

They want the military to get out of politics, and for the old guard to step down from power.

The five presidential candidates, approved by the state, are former prime ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, ex-culture minister Azzedddine Mihoubi, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, and Abdelaziz Belaid, a party leader.

All are familiar faces regarded by the protesters as part of a group that has held power since the country won independence from France in 1962.

With no sign of the protesters backing down and the military trying to use the election to restore order, the political system is paralyzed at a time when urgent action is needed to revive the economy, hit by a fall in vital oil revenues.

The protesters believe the army will continue to wield power behind the scenes after consolidating its position in the hierarchy by purging once untouchable rivals.

Its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, is now Algeria’s most powerful figure and sees the election of a new president as the best way to draw a line under a year of tumult and refresh the enduring political order.

Former PMs jailed

Ahmed Ouyahia, who was prime minister four times, received a 15-year jail sentence and Abdelmalek Sellal, who was twice premier, was jailed for 12 years. They denied all charges, including “misappropriation of public funds, abuse of power and granting undue privileges”.

The court in Algiers also handed 10-year prison terms to two former industry ministers, and sentences ranging from three to seven years to five prominent businessmen.

Many former senior officials have been in detention as the army seeks to quell the protests.

Algerians suffered through a horrific civil war in the 1990s, which killed 200,000 people.