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Algeria judges launch strike ahead of contentious presidential polls

Streets of Algiers were full on Friday as people took to streets for 36th consecutive week to demonstrate against forthcoming election and country's ruling elites
Algerian protesters march for 36th consecutive week in anti-government demonstrations in capital Algiers on Friday (AFP)

Algerian judges and prosecutors began an open-ended strike on Sunday to demand the independence of the judiciary after a massive reshuffle that has affected thousands, the union of magistrates said.

The move comes as the country remains wracked by anti-government protests against a planned December presidential election that must be overseen by judges, according to AFP.

The streets of Algiers were filled on Friday as people took to the streets for the 36th consecutive week to demonstrate against the country's ruling power-brokers.

Earlier this month, the justice ministry carried out an unprecedented reshuffle of the judiciary in a move that affected 3,000 judges and prosecutors, out of about 6,000.

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The National Magistrates' Syndicate (SNM) denounced the move as "a stranglehold by the executive over the power of the judiciary".

It accused the government of "encroaching on the prerogatives of the Supreme Judicial Council", it said in a statement.

The justice ministry defended its actions and said the reshuffle was "validated unanimously" by the members of the judicial council.

According to the SNM, the strike was being observed by 96 percent of all judges and prosecutors.

As a result, courts across the country - including the Supreme Court - have come to a standstill, according to Saad Eddine Merzoug, spokesman of the Magistrates' Club, a group established earlier this year.

Magistrates play a major role in overseeing elections in the North African country.

The planned December poll is meant to find a successor to veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit in April under the pressure of demonstrations.

"The Magistrates' Club and the SNM are allied in order to see the strike through until our demands are met," he added.

Activists are demanding sweeping reforms in the oil-rich country before any vote takes place, and say Bouteflika-era figures still in power must not use the presidential poll as an opportunity to appoint his successor.

The Hirak protest movement was formed in February to demand that Bouteflika resign instead of running for a fifth term, and has been backed by Algerians from all walks of life, including lawyers and judges.

In March, more than 1,000 judges said they would refuse to oversee the election scheduled for April if Bouteflika was a candidate, the BBC reported at the time. The judges said they would not act against the will of the people.

Polls rescheduled for 4 July were then postponed due to a lack of viable candidates.

The country has an interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah.

Algeria's electoral committee has registered 22 candidates for the December polls, including two former prime ministers who served under Bouteflika.