November 28, 2019 / 9:42 AM / 13 days ago

Algerian protesters scuffle with police as election nears

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Young Algerians protesting against a presidential election candidate scuffled with riot police in an eastern town late on Wednesday, residents said, as pressure builds between the ruling elite and its opponents before the contested Dec. 12 vote.

Police officers try to disperse demonstrators during a protest calling for the release of detained protesters and rejecting the December presidential election in Algiers, Algeria November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

Peaceful mass protests have taken place weekly this year across Algeria, dislodging the veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April and continuing to demand that the rest of the old guard of leaders step aside.

Both protesters and police have mostly avoided any violence since the start of the mass demonstrations in February.

Protesters oppose the election to replace Bouteflika, saying it cannot be fair so long as his allies retain positions of power and the army plays a role in politics.

Since the start of the official election campaign earlier this month, the number of protests has increased and the authorities have detained more demonstrators.

On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters in Bouira, 100 km (62 miles) east of Algiers, prevented one of the candidates, Ali Benflis, from leading a campaign rally.

They surrounded the meeting room and chanted “No election with the gang!”, a reference to the ruling hierarchy, before scuffles broke out with riot police.

Several protesters were injured, the local residents said. “It’s quiet this morning,” said one Bouira resident, Akli Said. He added that several protesters had been arrested, but there was no official confirmation from the Justice Ministry.

The army, the strongest institution in the country, has repeatedly said that the election is the only solution to end the crisis.

Dozens of key decision makers from Bouteflika’s era are behind bars in cases of alleged corruption including two ex prime ministers, 12 ministers, two intelligence chiefs and senior generals.

A low turnout would mean that Algeria’s next president would have little margin of manoeuvre to reform the economy and diversify it away from oil and gas sales.

The crash of the oil price since 2014 has hit Algeria’s annual petroleum revenues, a mainstay of the economy, which have halved from around $60 billion to $30 billion.

Reporting By Lamine Chikhi, editing by Angus McDowall and William Maclean

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