France urges Algeria to respect basic freedoms ahead of elections

PARIS Fri Mar 14, 2014 10:48am EDT

Members of an opposition party clash with riot police officers during a demonstration against Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika's decision to run for a fourth term, in Algiers March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Members of an opposition party clash with riot police officers during a demonstration against Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika's decision to run for a fourth term, in Algiers March 12, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Louafi Larbi

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PARIS (Reuters) - France urged Algeria on Friday to respect the right to peaceful demonstrations and free expression after Algerian police stopped an opposition march this week ahead of presidential elections.

Large-scale protests are rare in Algeria where an elite of National Liberation Front (FLN) party veterans and army intelligence generals, known as "The Power", has called the shots since independence from France in 1962.

Algerian police prevented opposition leaders from marching on Wednesday to demand a boycott of April's election, in which President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking a fourth term despite questions about his capacity after suffering a stroke last year.

Last week, the police also prevented a movement called Barakat, a small group of protesters including journalists, from marching in the capital Algiers to call for a boycott.

"We would like freedom of the press and expression to be respected in Algeria," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told reporters. "The right to demonstrate peacefully is part of the fundamental freedoms and we hope that basic freedoms are respected in Algeria like anywhere else in the world."

Many Algerians are wary of any political instability, with memories of civil war with Islamist fighters in the 1990s still fresh. More than 200,000 people died in that conflict.

Relations between France and Algeria remain complicated after the bloody war of independence half a century ago, meaning that Paris rarely publicly comments on the internal situation in its former colony.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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