With just two weeks before elections, protesters in Algeria showed no signs of stopping on Wednesday as stone-throwing crowds clashed with security forces using tear gas outside one candidate’s meeting site.
Agence France Presse reports the presidential candidate, former prime minister Ali Benflis, held his meeting some 90 kilometers outside of Algiers but was greeted by more of the demonstrations that have marked the North African nation since February.
That’s when activists and Algerian youth began a campaign to oust the aging and fragile President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 82-year-old who led the nation for 20 years despite suffering a stroke in 2013.
By April, the movement that forced Bouteflika and the National Liberation Front to agree to his resignation succeeded but the demands for change only grew. Many have adopted the “Hirak” banner deployed by similar political activists across North Africa pressing for social and economic change.
The escalating tensions have led to numerous arrests of opposition leaders, prompting a warning from Human Rights Watch that Algeria is targeting pro-democracy leaders.
The political opposition also rejects the approved presidential candidates for the December 12 election because, they say, all of them are too closely aligned with Bouteflika’s long tenure. Besides Benflis, the other candidates are Abdelmadjid Taboun, Azzedine Mihoubi, Abdelkader Ben Grina and Abdelaziz Belaid.
Abdelkader Bensalah, who stepped into Bouteflika’s role in the interim, issued a terse statement reported by Algeria Press Service earlier this week that dismissed “foreign interference” in the electoral process, adding to concerns about transparency and a credible process.
“Whoever the instigators and whatever their intentions, often, if not always, (they are) using human rights as an excuse, an argument that is most of the time diabolically politicized,” Bensalah said.
“Our partners should show respect for Algeria and its institutions, as it is up to the Algerian people, and only the Algerian people, to choose, in all sovereignty and with full guarantees of transparency, the presidential candidate they wish to give the legitimacy to run the country.”