Algerians defiant in first protest since election call

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest to reject the Algerian election announcement for December, in Algiers, Algeria.
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Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the center of Algiers on Friday in the first significant test of the months-old protest movement since the government called an election for December, a Reuters journalist said.

They were marching despite several high-profile arrests of opposition activists over the past week and an order by powerful army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah on Wednesday for police to seize vehicles bringing protesters to the capital.

“No vote with the gang!” protesters chanted, angered by interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s announcement on Sunday that an election would be held on December 12.

Helicopters flew overhead, monitoring the protest.

Since protesters forced veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit in April, the standoff between them and the authorities has focused on new elections.

Gaed Salah has been pushing for a vote for months as the only way out of the constitutional limbo created by Bouteflika’s departure and the postponement of an election that had been due in July.

The loose-knit opposition movement has rejected any vote, however, saying it could not be seen as free or fair while so many of the old guard remain in power.

“We want Gaed Salah to be removed,” some protesters chanted on Friday. “We want a civilian state, not a military state.”

“We will not stop marching. It is a unique opportunity to change this corrupt system,” Adlene Kada, a 23-year-old protester, said at the march.

The authorities have used a dual approach to containing the protest movement in recent months, combining increasing pressure on the demonstrators with arrests of senior people in the ruling elite on corruption charges.

With the election now called, there seems little change in that strategy, with three prominent activists detained over the past week and the chief of the former ruling FLN party arrested on Thursday.