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'No election tomorrow': Thousands protest in Algeria on eve of presidential poll

Many Algerians say they will boycott vote while old guard remains in power and military continues to intervene in politics
Algerian protesters in capital Algiers on 10 December (AFP)

Thousands of Algerians have taken to the streets of the country's capital, Algiers, to demand Thursday's presidential election be cancelled, denouncing the upcoming poll as a charade.

Protesters chanted "no election tomorrow" and held up banners reading "You have destroyed the country" on Wednesday as riot police blocked roads. 

Thursday's presidential election is expected to be a pivotal moment in a months-long struggle between the leaderless anti-government protest movement "Hirak," and a shadowy network of military, security and political officials, known as "the power", who have ruled the country for decades.

Protesters say new elections cannot be held without first removing from power longstanding political figures who were allied with former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in April.

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The movement forced Bouteflika's resignation, but has since continued protesting across the country to demand sweeping reforms ahead of elections.

The old guard

All five of the state-approved candidates running on Thursday are ex-senior officials linked to the former president, including two who were prime ministers. 

The army, the dominant force in power, has said that the vote will be fair and an election is the only way to get out of the crisis.

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Still, protesters say no election can be free or fair while the old guard of rulers remains in power and the military remains involved in politics. 

"Algerians want radical change. They are fed up," Ahmed Kamili, a 25-year-old student wrapped in the national flag, told Reuters. 

The deadlock between the protest movement and a state increasingly dominated by the military is risking the political future of Africa's biggest country, a nation of 40 million people and a major gas supplier to Europe.

Despite protesters' objections, army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, who has emerged as Algeria's most powerful political player since Bouteflika was ousted, has pushed for Thursday's vote as the only option. 

While no opinion polls have been published ahead of the election, observers expect a low voter turnout. There will not be international observers present to monitor the vote. 

'We spent the night outdoors'

On Tuesday, police in Algiers used batons to hold back demonstrators near the central post office, a rallying point of the anti-government protest movement, AFP news agency reported. 

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"Today we spent the night outdoors," protesters chanted when police tried to block access to the post offiice as they marched towards it, skirting riot police cordons, the news agency said. 

Despite police arrests, protesters held their ground, an AFP journalist reported.

Protests have been illegal in Algiers since 2001 and until this week police have only tolerated weekly Hirak protests on Fridays and student marches on Tuesdays.

Demonstrators opposed to the election have also rallied in the provincial cities of Bouira and Constantine, AFP reported, citing social media. 

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