November 21, 2019 / 9:26 PM / 15 days ago

Algerians march again as protests step up before vote

A demonstrator bangs a mortar with a pestle during a protest rejecting the December presidential election in Algiers, Algeria November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Hundreds of Algerians marched through the capital late on Thursday for a second consecutive night, an indication that protesters are stepping up their months-long campaign in the run-up to a presidential election next month.

The protesters, who want the vote to be canceled until the ruling hierarchy quits power, chanted “No vote with the gang” as they marched through Didouche Mourad, a major street in downtown Algiers.

The mass protests that erupted in February, and unseated veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April, have mostly taken place on Fridays and Tuesdays. Authorities detained several demonstrators, witnesses said.

The protesters seek to replace the old guard of rulers who have wielded power since independence from France in 1962. They also demand an end to corruption and the withdrawal of the military from politics.

With the election campaign having officially started on Sunday, and with the authorities detaining people accused of disrupting preparations for the vote, the protesters may now be moving towards daily demonstrations.

The “Hirak” protest movement has no leadership and calls to join protests typically spread on social media.

The army, the most powerful player in Algerian politics, has said it will not back any of the five candidates, all former senior officials, who are standing in the election. It sees the vote as the only way to restore normality.

Courts this week sentenced protesters to 18-month prison terms for disrupting the election after bags of garbage and posters of opposition figures were hung in spaces reserved for campaign literature.

Dozens of other protesters have been detained in recent months, some for undermining national unity after raising flags associated with Algeria’s Berber people.

Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Peter Graff

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