Algerian protesters step up pressure with new demonstration

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Hundreds of Algerians marched in the capital Algiers late on Wednesday, stepping up pressure on the authorities to cancel a Dec. 12 presidential election.

Weekly protests have taken place on Tuesdays and Fridays since February, but demonstrators appear eager to increase their street presence in the run up to the vote.

Marching through the main streets of Algiers, the protesters chanted “No vote, no vote” as security forces intervened to disperse them.

The protest movement erupted in February as veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika prepared to stand for another term in an election that was originally scheduled for July.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Algiers and other towns and cities calling for him and the rest of the old ruling elite that had governed since independence from France in 1962 to quit power.

Bouteflika stepped aside in April as the army withdrew its support and the authorities began detaining his allies and other senior officials and businessmen on corruption charges.

The July election was then postponed creating a constitutional limbo with interim president Abdelkader Bensalah still in place. The army and its powerful chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah see the election as the only way to restore normality and quell the protests.

The demonstrators reject any election that takes place while old members of the ruling elite remain in place, saying it could not be fair.

The army, now the main player in Algeria’s politics, has repeatedly vowed transparency for the vote, saying the military would not back any candidate.

The five men running in the election are all former senior officials, though some had later spoken out against Bouteflika or opposed him in earlier elections.

Since the presidential campaign officially began on Sunday, some protesters have been hanging bags of garbage, or posters of detained opposition figures, in public spaces reserved for election material.

A court on Tuesday imposed rapid 18-month jail sentences on four protesters convicted of disrupting an election event on Sunday. Human Rights Watch said last week the detention of scores of demonstrators in recent months appeared aimed at weakening the protest movement.

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed. Editing by Angus McDowall and Marguerita Choy