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Algeria: Army chief calls for massive voter turnout in contentious election

Ahmed Gaid Salah says high turnout at polls on 12 December would give 'a stinging slap to all those attacking Algeria'
Protesters have chanted 'to the garbage with the generals' during months of widespread anti-government protests (AFP/File photo)

Algeria's military chief has called for massive voter turnout in the country's disputed 12 December presidential election, which has been rejected by many Algerian protesters.

In a meeting with military officials on Tuesday, Ahmed Gaid Salah said that Algerians need "to head en masse to the polling stations" later this month.

He said a large turnout would deliver "a stinging slap to all those attacking Algeria", AFP news agency reported.

Salah's comments came after the European Parliament last week passed a resolution that condemned "the arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detainment" of journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, students, and peaceful protesters in Algeria.

Many protesters are in opposition to the upcoming vote, which they say cannot be held without first removing longstanding political figures - and allies of former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in April - from power.

While Salah has said the Algerian army "deserves all the respect, consideration and support" of the people, demonstrators have chanted "to the garbage with the generals" during the protests, AFP reported.

The mass demonstrations first broke out in February in anger over Bouteflika's plan to run for a fifth term in office.

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The ailing president resigned weeks later, but the protesters have continued to demand the departure of the country's ruling elite, the army's withdrawal from politics, and an end to corruption.

Activists are also demanding sweeping reforms before any vote takes place, and say Bouteflika-era figures still in power must not use the election as a chance to appoint his successor.

As the country's powerful army chief, Salah is widely seen as Algeria's de facto leader, while Abdelkader Bensalah, a Bouteflika ally, currently serves as interim president.

Salah insists that elections must be held to break the current political deadlock.

Five candidates, including two former prime ministers, are running for president, according to Algeria's electoral committee.

But the protesters say all five candidates belong to the Bouteflika-era political establishment.

The candidates will face off in a televised debate on Friday, the state-run Algerian Press Service reported.

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