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'There will be no vote': Protesters march in Algiers against December elections

Algeria demonstrators accuse army of seeking to keep Bouteflika-era officials in positions of power
Algerian protesters demand complete overhaul of country's political system (AFP)

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Algeria's capital on Friday to protest against the army's plan to hold presidential elections in December, a move they say would leave the country's ruling elite in positions of power.

The demonstration in Algiers went on amid a heavy police presence, an AFP correspondent said.

It was unclear how many people were involved, the news agency reported. Photos showed packed streets in the capital, as people waved Algerian flags and held signs emblazoned with political messages including "Algeria for Algerians" and "Release our prisoners of conscience".

"It's our country, it's up to us to decide and there will be no vote," the protesters chanted, as reported by AFP.

algeria protest
Protesters march through the Algerian capital Algiers on 4 October (AFP)

According to the news agency's count, the demonstration marked the 33rd consecutive Friday that Algerians have gone into the streets to call for a complete overhaul of the country's political system.

The protest movement forced Algeria's longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down in April after two decades in power.

Since then, the protesters have insisted on a total shake-up of the country's political system and have called for corrupt officials to be removed from their posts.

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Despite the protesters' demands, the head of the Algerian military, Ahmed Gaid Salah, said in early September that presidential elections must be held before the end of the year.

Since Bouteflika's resignation, Salah and the military have become the country's de-facto rulers.

The vote was previously set to take place in July, but it was postponed because of a lack of candidates.

Earlier this week, Salah warned people against "disrupting" the election, which now has been set for 12 December.

The army chief said the vote is a test for the "democracy" that "a crushing majority of the Algerian people" want, AFP reported.

The army also said last month that it wouldn't back any presidential candidate ahead of the vote.

'Climate of fear'

Still, the protesters have insisted that holding the elections in December would be premature, especially as Bouteflika-era officials remain in positions of authority.

On Friday, protester Amine Benmesbah criticised Algerian authorities for trying to present "dinosaurs that have long been close to Bouteflika... like grand democrats".

"So no question of voting under these conditions," Benmesbah, 50, told AFP in Algiers.

'No question of giving up today and finding ourselves with the same [people in power] at the wheel for decades more'

- Hamida Benhaj, protester

"No question of giving in today and finding ourselves with the same [people] at the wheel for decades more," added another protester, 56-year-old teacher Hamida Benhaj.

Rights groups have also accused the Algerian authorities of arbitrarily detaining civil society leaders in an attempt to stem the protests ahead of the vote.

Amnesty International said on 19 September that at least 37 students and activists had been arrested since 11 September.

"The wave of arbitrary arrests appears to be part of an orchestrated attempt to intimidate demonstrators, including political and other civil society activists, ahead of the elections, creating a climate of fear and repression," Heba Morayef, the rights group's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement. 

"Instead of trampling all over the rights of Algerians, the Algerian authorities should respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and instead learn to listen to protesters."

That same day, on 19 September, Salah ordered the country's security officers to seize buses and cars transporting protesters into Algiers to participate in the demonstrations.