Thousands protest in Algiers after election date announced

Algiers, March 12 (AFP/APP):Thousands demonstrated in Algiers on Friday, rejecting early legislative elections announced the day before, as weekly rallies by the resurgent Hirak pro-democracy movement gain momentum.

Protesters defied a coronavirus-related ban on gatherings to rally from different parts of the capital, converging on the central post office, the Hirak movement’s emblematic rallying point, AFP correspondents said.

Demonstrators shouted slogans including “No elections with mafia gangs” and “a civil not a military state”, a key Hirak slogan.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Thursday issued a decree setting June 12 for early legislative elections, after dissolving parliament last month.

“To safeguard itself, the system says: legislative (elections),” one poster read Friday.

The Hirak movement broke out in February 2019 in outrage at then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the movement continued with demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

Since its second anniversary on February 22, the Hirak has restarted weekly Friday protests, suspended for almost a year due to the pandemic.

“The same system is still in place. We will not vote on June 12,” M’Hamed, a 50-year-old shopkeeper who only gave his first name, told AFP from the protest.

People also took to the streets in other parts of the country, including northwestern Oran, central Tizi Ouzou and eastern Annaba.

The CNLD prisoners’ rights group said protesters had been arrested in Tizi Ouzou, without providing further details.

Once a premier under Bouteflika and elected in a widely boycotted presidential poll in December 2019, Tebboune has reached out to the protest movement while also seeking to neutralise it.

In a gesture of appeasement, last month he announced pardons for dozens of jailed pro-democracy activists, including several prominent figures.

Tebboune has pledged that the June elections will be free of corruption and will “open the doors of parliament to young people”.

A constitutional referendum in November saw record-low participation.

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