US urges respect for protests in Algeria

Mixed signals: US urges respect for anti-government protests in Algeria while congratulating 'rigged' election results
3 min read
14 December, 2019
Washington congratulated Algeria's new president on Friday, while urging the country to respect protests against his election to power.
Algerians have protested against the election for weeks [Getty]

The US on Friday urged Algeria to respect the rights of protesters but congratulated the president-elect of widely boycotted elections.

"The Algerian people have voiced their aspirations not just at the ballot box but in the streets, as well. The United States supports the right of Algerians to peacefully express their views," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Massive crowds gathered in Algiers after a former ally of deposed leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected president in Thursday’s polls, which protesters charged were rigged.

But Washington raised no doubts about the election's legitimacy, saying it "congratulated" Algeria on the vote and sought a "mutually respectful and beneficial relationship".

"We look forward to working with President-elect Abdelmadjid Tebboune to promote regional security and prosperity," the statement said.

Huge crowds massed in Algeria's capital on Friday in protest against the election of the former regime loyalist.

"The vote is rigged. Your elections are of no concern to us and your president will not govern us," chanted demonstrators who flooded central Algiers, an AFP journalist said.

Comment: Why we should be watching what happens in Algeria

They vowed to keep up their campaign for the total dismantling of the political establishment following Abdelmadjid Tebboune's victory in Thursday's poll.

"Tebboune is worse than Bouteflika. He's known for being one of the thieves," said Meriem, a 31-year-old civil servant. "We did not vote and we will not back down."

The 74-year-old former prime minister took 58.15 percent of the vote, trouncing his four fellow contenders without the need for a second-round runoff, electoral commission chairman Mohamed Charfi announced.

The deeply unpopular election had been championed by the army as a way of restoring stability after almost 10 months of street protests.

All five candidates - who included another former prime minister, Ali Benflis, 75, and an ex-minister, Azzedine Mihoubi - were widely rejected by protesters as "children of the regime".

Many Algerians see the government as inept, corrupt and unable to manage the flagging economy of the North African country.

Read more: Algeria: An unpopular election

Tebboune served in Bouteflika's government as communications and then housing minister and was later briefly appointed as prime minister.

Turnout at record low

On Thursday, a record six in 10 Algerians abstained, Charfi said, the highest rate for a multi-party election since independence from France in 1962.

Tens of thousands rallied in central Algiers, where police with water cannon and helicopters tried to disperse protesters.

"The people want independence," demonstrators chanted after breaking through a police cordon and filling the streets outside the Central Post Office, their rallying point through more than 40 weeks of protest.

In the capital, a group of protesters stormed a polling stations, suspending voting there for half an hour before police pushed them out again.

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