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Algeria's President-elect Abdelmadjid Tebboune faces fresh protests

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A demonstrator holds a card during a protest calling to reject the upcoming presidential election in Algiers, Algeria December 11, 2019.
A demonstrator holds a card during a protest calling to reject the upcoming presidential election in Algiers, Algeria December 11, 2019.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
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Fresh protests erupted in Algeria on Friday just hours after Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former Prime Minister, was declared the winner of the country's presidential election.

Tebboune called on Friday for a dialogue with the opposition protest movement, saying at a news conference he would start consultations on a new constitution to be approved by referendum and extended his hand to them "to open a new page".

But the protesters marching in Algiers see him as part of the same military-backed elite that has ruled Algeria for decades, and quickly rejected his victory.

Thousands crowded central Algiers despite a heavy police presence, suggesting the new leader may struggle to quell the uprising that ended Abdelaziz Bouteflika's two-decade rule in April.

"The country is ours and we do what we want", they chanted, while holding up a banner that read: "We will not stop!"

Tebboune secured 58% of the vote, the electoral commission announced on Friday, enough to prevent a second round. Turnout was just 40%, the electoral body's head said in a televised news conference in Algiers.

Protesters wanted ballot put off

The election had been opposed by a large protest movement that wanted the ballot put off until the entire ruling elite steps down and the military quits politics.

The military, the strongest political player, saw the vote as the only way to restore order in Algeria, Africa's largest country, a major natural gas supplier to Europe and home to 40 million people.

The five presidential candidates, approved by the state, were 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 were familiar faces regarded by the protesters as part of a group that has held power since the country won independence from France in 1962.

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 this week, chanting "we will not vote" and "we want freedom".

Political paralysis

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.

With no sign of the protesters backing down and the military trying to use the election to restore order, the political system is paralysed 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.

READ MORE: Protesters out in force ahead of Algeria's presidential election