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Algerians rally for change after presidential polls scrapped

By AFP - Jun 09,2019 - Last updated at Jun 09,2019

Algerian protesters hold the national flag as they demonstrate in the capital Algiers, on Friday (AFP photo)

ALGIERS — Hundreds of demonstrators packed the centre of the Algerian capital on on Friday calling on the interim president to quit a day after he called for dialogue aimed at fixing a new date for elections as soon as possible.

A vote planned for July 4 was cancelled on Sunday in the face of widespread protests as demonstrators who forced the ouster of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April continued to demand a broad political overhaul.

Algeria's constitutional council said it was impossible to hold elections to choose a successor to Bouteflika after the only two candidates were rejected.

Interim Algerian President Abdelkader Bensalah on Thursday urged the political class and civil society to hold an "inclusive dialogue" aimed at fixing a new date for elections "as soon as possible".

But demonstrators who flooded central Algiers for the 16th consecutive Friday continued to demand change in the North African country, chanting "we're fed up with these rulers".

They also called on Bensalah and army chief Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah — who has become the country's power broker — to "clear off" as police deployed massively across the centre of the capital.

The protesters have been staunchly against presidential polls being held as long as the ruling elite, which they accuse of having links to Bouteflika, remain in power.

"The only condition for dialogue is that the current rulers must all go," Maasi, a 26-year-old unemployed man who only gave his first name, said in response to Bensalah's call for talks as he took part in Friday's protest.

Hamid, a civil servant, added that any dialogue "should be with the real holder of power, and that means the army. Bensalah does not make the decisions".

Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Centre based in Beirut, said the protesters won points with the cancellation of the July 4 elections.

But on the other hand, she said, the planned polls "were a non-event because from a logistical point of view it would have been impossible to organise the elections".

While Gaid Salah had pushed for the polls, July 4 looked increasingly implausible as no major party nominated a candidate.

A major obstacle emerged when some mayors and magistrates said they would not take part in organising the elections.

The two unknown figures who put themselves forward — Abdelhakim Hamadi and Hamid Touahri — had not been expected to gather the necessary 60,000 voter signatures to validate their bid for office.

Yazbeck said "no one wants to run in the election and take part in this masquerade, and it is clear that the authorities cannot agree on a candidate to represent them".

"The authorities are improvising. There are no long term solutions and despite what they thought, the [protest] movement is not petering out," she added.

Algerians have been demonstrating since February, after an ailing Bouteflika announced plans to seek a fifth term in office.

Demonstrations also took place in several other Algerian cities and towns, according to social media reports, although it was not immediately clear how many protesters took to the streets nationwide on Friday as official figures were unavailable.

But AFP reporters said the rally in Algiers was massive with demonstrators flooding several major streets in the capital.

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