By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS - Tens of thousands of Algerians marched through the capital and other towns and cities on Friday as their months-long campaign of protests gathers steam ahead of an election they demand to be canceled.
With three weeks to go before the December 12 vote for a new president, the protesters have started demonstrating more often and the authorities appear to be ramping up the number of arrests.
“We are determined to win in the struggle. We have reached the point of no return,” said Farid Djemai, sitting in a wheelchair in the main protest in downtown Algiers.
As a helicopter flew overhead and with large numbers of police in attendance, the protesters, many wrapped in Algerian national flags, thronged the streets chanting “we are not interested in your vote”.
The protesters reject the planned election, saying it cannot be free or fair while the military and senior officials from the old guard of the ruling hierarchy retain power.
The five presidential candidates were all senior officials under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who stepped down in April when the army withdrew support after six weeks of demonstrations against his plans to seek another term.
“We will not stop our pressure,” said 37-year-old school teacher Mohamed Tachine, holding a child on his shoulder.
The protests were not quelled by the president’s departure, which was followed by the arrests of other senior figures seen as corrupt. Tens of thousands of people have continued to take to the streets at weekly demonstrations on Fridays.
They want more figures from the ruling hierarchy to step aside, an end to corruption, and for the military to quit politics. Powerful army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah has emerged as the dominant political player since Bouteflika’s departure.
Gaed Salah has been a key proponent of holding next month’s vote. The army regards the election of a new president as the only way to end the protests, restore normality, and escape the constitutional limbo caused by Bouteflika’s departure.
The FLN party which has dominated Algeria since independence in 1962 has not backed any of the candidates. However, the protesters still reject the vote and have hung bags of rubbish and posters of jailed opposition figures in public spaces designated for electioneering.
This week, several demonstrators were sentenced to 18-month terms in a quick-fire trial for disrupting the election campaign.