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Pro-vote Algerians march against 'foreign interference' ahead of December polls

Algerians have been split between pro and anti-vote [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 November, 2019

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Algerians protesting for and against the December elections have taken to the streets in recent weeks.
Several hundred Algerians marched on Saturday in support of a presidential election rejected by a mass protest movement that has rocked the North African country since February.

The march was organised by the UGTA trades union group which is close to the National Liberation Front of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit in April under pressure from the street.

The UGTA supported Bouteflika during his 20 years at the helm in Algeria.

Pro-regime "spontaneous" rallies have been held across the country as the December 12 polling day nears, but Saturday's was the first staged by a group close to the regime.

"No to foreign interference!" read one placard in response to a European Parliament resolution on Thursday.

The resolution condemned "the arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detainment of, attacks on and intimidations of journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, students, human rights defenders and civil society and all peaceful protesters" in Algeria.

Algiers denounced what it called "flagrant interference in its internal affairs" and a "disregard" for its institutions.

Marchers on Saturday also voiced their support for the military, whose chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah has been Algeria's de facto ruler since Bouteflika stepped down.

Read more: Algerians rise up against upcoming presidential poll despite crackdown on protests

"The December 12 vote will go ahead," demonstrators chanted as they also railed against former colonial power France, telling its "children" - anti-vote protesters - to "get out".

Despite protests being banned in the capital since 2001, police escorted the marchers and arrested several onlookers who shouted anti-poll slogans or insulted demonstrators.

The authorities have tolerated massive weekly demonstrations that been kept up despite Bouteflika's departure, but they have also begun to disperse protesters in Algiers in recent weeks.

Anti-vote protesters fear the poll will cement in power politicians close to Bouteflika. The five candidates standing all either supported him or took part in his government.

On Friday, anti-vote protesters marched in the capital to insist that the presidential election set for December 12 must not go ahead before a change of regime.

Read more: Graffiti and garbage: Algeria protesters trash 'meaningless' presidential election

The five candidates standing in the December poll all either supported the former leader or took part in his government.

"There will be no vote!" demonstrators chanted on Friday. "We swear we will not stop!"

They denounced an official crackdown on the so-called "Hirak" movement that has shaken the country with months of unprecedented protests.

Security forces, both uniformed and plain-clothed, flooded Algiers for the 41st consecutive Friday of demonstrations, deploying water cannon and anti-barricade vehicles.

"This is intimidation! Why so many police vehicles? We're protesting peacefully and are against violence," said Tassadit Ourabeh, 64.

At least 25 people were arrested before Friday's march, AFP journalists said. 

Police also used tear gas against young protesters outside a police station, witnesses said.

On Thursday, a European Parliament resolution said MEPs "strongly condemn the arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detainment of, attacks on and intimidations of journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, students, human rights defenders and civil society and all peaceful protesters".

The Algerian authorities reacted by denouncing what it called "flagrant interference in its internal affairs" and a "disregard" for the country's institutions.

The protesters fear that a regime in power since the former French colony's independence in 1962 seeks to preserve its grip on the country.

As polling day approaches, positions on both sides are hardening, sparking fears of more radical measures.

"There is still strong mobilisation and an especially strong determination to reject the election," Said Salhi of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights told AFP.

No opinion polls have been published that indicate the likely turnout.

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