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Algeria demonstrations continue amid arrests, high security

Algerian protesters march with protest signs as they gather during a mass demonstration against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the capital Algiers on 29 March, 2019 [AFP/ Getty]

Algeria’s security forces yesterday launched a campaign of arrests in Algerian capital Algiers after large demonstrations began after Friday prayer.

Algerians went out to demonstrate for the 19th Friday in a row, demanding change to the regime after former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in April.

Demonstrators withstood the extreme heat and heavy security presence, particularly in the capital where police arrested scores of people. Security forces were seen in official and civilian uniforms at the city’s Central Post Square, the gathering point for demonstrators since the start of the protests on 22 February.

The police arrested at least seven people after checking their identities and confiscating their mobile phones in Hassiba Ben Bouali Street. In Didouche Mourad Street, security officers in civilian uniforms arrested two young men at the University of Algiers 1 and took them away in police trucks, providing no information about the reason for their arrest, according to eyewitnesses.

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Around midday, hundreds of demonstrators began to gather near the University of Algiers amid a siege of police officers, who pushed them to the sidewalk so that cars could pass. The demonstrators then started a march, which continued for only a few metres before being stopped by the police.

The demonstrators chanted slogans such as “We do not want, we do not want military rule again,” “Civilian and not military state”, “Gaid Salah, step away” and “Transitional phase to achieve a break with the regime before the presidential elections”, in response to claims by Army Chief of Staff Gaid Salah that those demanding a transitional period seek to “protect corruption”.

Since the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on 2 April under pressure from the people, demonstrators have been demanding the departure of figures close to the old regime, including transitional President Abdelkader Bensalah.

The Chief of Staff has rejected the demonstrators’ demands, especially those related to reaching an agreement on a transitional period and forming transitional institutions, at the end of which presidential elections will be held. He has also been insisting on the implementation of the constitution, which stipulates the holding of presidential elections.

However, Salah – who has become the de facto strongest man in the country – has not explained an alternative solution after the cancellation of presidential elections that were due to be held on 4 July because of the lack of candidates and their rejection by the protest movement.

While the constitution stipulates that Bensalah hand over power to a new president by 9 July, this deadline, in light of the cancellation of elections, remains so short that no new elections can be held.

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