An Algerian military court on Monday upheld a 15-year prison term for the brother of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and two ex-intelligence chiefs convicted of conspiracy against the state, a lawyer said.
The once-mighty Said Bouteflika, 62, was long seen as the real power behind the presidency after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.
He had served as a key presidential aide but was detained in May last year, a month after Bouteflika quit office weeks into mass protests against his bid for a fifth presidential term.
In September Said Bouteflika, along with several other senior regime officials, was sentenced by a military tribunal to 15 years in jail for “conspiring” against the state and undermining the army’s authority.
Their convictions were the most high-profile in a string of prosecutions of prominent politicians and businessmen after Bouteflika was pushed out in April after two decades in power.
A court in Blida, south of Algiers, began hearing an appeal against the sentences on Sunday behind closed doors and amid heavy security.
Algeria’s state prosecutor sought an increased penalty of 20 years in jail, lawyers said, but the court confirmed the original sentences.
“Said Bouteflika, General (Athmane) Tartag and General (Mohamed Lamine) Mediene received 15 years in prison. The initial verdict was confirmed,” lawyer Boudjemaa Guechir told AFP.
Mediene, known as “Toufik”, headed the powerful Department of Intelligence and Security for 25 years and was sentenced in September alongside the former president’s brother.
Also in court were Mediene’s former right-hand man, Tartag, and Louisa Hanoune, who had served as secretary-general of the left-wing Workers’ Party.
Guechir, who represented Hanoune, said her initial sentence of 15 years was reduced to three years before she was released late Monday and greeted by waiting relatives.
The four defendants were accused of having met in March 2019 in a bid to derail plans by the army high command to force the departure of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Said Bouteflika allegedly wanted the intelligence bosses to dismiss the army chief of staff at the time, General Ahmed Gaid Salah.
Defence lawyers had hoped the four would be released after Algeria’s balance of power shifted following the December 23 death of Gaid Salah at the age of 79.
“I am disappointed but not discouraged,” said Farouk Kessentini, Mediene’s lawyer, adding they planned to appeal to the Supreme Court on points of law.
An Algerian anti-government protest movement that began almost a year ago and brought down Bouteflika has continued, demanding the dismantling of the political system and its representatives who have been in power for several decades.
Tartag’s lawyer, Me Khaled Bergheul, said his client had been held “hostage” to protest movement.
“It’s a heavy penalty. My client knows very well that the economic situation in the country is not conducive to a light verdict,” he told AFP.
Twelve people were killed and another 46 injured when two buses collided early Sunday in Algeria’s northeast, emergency services said, in the latest tragedy of its kind in the North African country.
Emergency teams arrived at “around 1:10 am (0010 GMT) following a fatal accident, a collision between two buses, on the state highway near the city of Astil” in the province of Biskra, 500 km southeast of Algiers, a statement said.
“Twelve people, aged 19 to 73, were killed and 46 were injured,” it added.
Public radio quoted Ahmed Baoudji, director of emergency services for the nearby city of El Oued, as saying preliminary investigations indicated speeding was the probable cause.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune offered his condolences to the victims’ families and asked Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad to oversee assistance, the radio added, while Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud and Health Minister Abderrahmane Benbouzid went to the scene.
According to the national road safety commission, a government agency, 3,275 people were killed in road crashes in Algeria in 2019 and more than 30,000 injured — fewer than in previous years.
It also reported a small decrease in the number of accidents — almost 22,000 — compared to 2018.
Last month Tunisia and Morocco, which neighbour Algeria, were in mourning after two bus crashes that were among the deadliest in the region. On December 1, 30 people died in northwest Tunisia, and at least 17 were killed the same day in the north of Morocco.
The president of protest-hit Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, plans to outlaw “hate speech” that has proliferated on social networks in recent months, his office said Monday.
Tebboune asked Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad to draft a bill “criminalising all forms of racism … and hate speech in the country,” according to a statement published by the official APS press agency.
The new initiative follows “an upsurge in hate speech and incitement,” the presidential statement said.
Algerian social networks have become a battleground for rival political camps after they gave rise to the popular “Hirak” protest movement that in April ended the 20-year reign of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The tone became more aggressive in the run-up to a December 12 presidential election, held in the face of strong opposition from the protest movement which saw the polls as an attempt by the establishment to consolidate its power.
All five candidates who ran in the poll had links to Bouteflika, with Tebboune having served as one of his prime ministers. Official turnout was less than 40 percent.
The law would allow authorities “to confront those who exploit the freedom and peaceful nature of Hirak” by brandishing “slogans that undermine national cohesion,” the statement said.
The initiative has sparked fierce debate on social media between those who back it and those who see it as an unneccessary measure, with some wary that it could give wide scope to crack down on legitimate protest.
The planned law stipulates that “everyone is called upon to comply with the Constitution and laws of the Republic, in particular respect for… the Nation state and its values… as well as the symbols of the state.”
Nearly a year after the launch of the popular movement, its activists continue to demand an end to the governing system in place since the country’s independence from France in 1962.
Algeria’s new president on Saturday named as his prime minister an academic turned political insider who vowed to work to win back people’s trust after months of street protests.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected this month to succeed ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, asked Abdelaziz Djerad to form a government, the presidency announced in a statement carried by state television.
The 65-year-old premier, who has a Ph.D in political science, struck a conciliatory tone after meeting Tebboune, whose election victory was rejected by protesters as a ploy to keep establishment insiders in power.
Djerad pledged to work with all Algerians to surmount the economic and social challenges confronting the north African country.
“We face a major challenge to win back the trust” of the people, he added.
But the initial response on the street to Djerad’s appointment suggested he has his work cut out.
“This change of prime minister is illegitimate since the one who appointed him is illegitimate,” said pharmacy student Maassoum.
The people “asked for a new soup. They just changed the spoon,” said one of his friends, Amine.
Although from an academic background, Djerad already has experience of the inner workings of the Algerian state, having held posts including general secretary of the presidency from 1993-1995 and the same role at the foreign ministry from 2001-2003.
He replaces Sabri Boukadoum, the foreign minister who was appointed interim prime minister after Tebboune’s election win.
Algeria’s 10-month-old protest movement has rejected Tebboune as part of the same corrupt system that has ruled since independence in 1962.
Demonstrators have stayed on the streets since Bouteflika resigned in April after two decades in office.
On Friday tens of thousands of Algerians rallied again insisting on a total revamp of the political establishment.
But the demonstration seemed one of the smallest since the start of the unprecedented, peaceful uprising, with some protesters saying school and university holidays had kept people away.
The crowd was outnumbered by the throngs of people who had turned out for the funeral on Wednesday of powerful army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who had become the de facto strongman in the country after Bouteflika quit.
The December 12 election was boycotted by a large part of the electorate.
Tebboune won with 58.1 percent of the vote on a turnout of less than 40 percent, according to official results, and was sworn in on December 19, days before Gaid Salah died of a heart attack at age 79.
Algeria’s powerful army chief General has died, state television reported Monday, without giving details on the cause of his death.
Gaid Salah, 79, was seen as Algeria’s de facto strongman following the April resignation of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the face of massive protests against his bid for a fifth term.
The lifelong military man played a key role pushing through December 12 presidential elections for Bouteflika’s replacement, defying a months-long protest movement that has demanded deep-rooted political reforms before any poll.
As chief of Algeria’s military for a record 15 years and a veteran of Algeria’s war for independence, the general was seen as the guardian of the military-dominated system that has been in power since.
He had supported Bouteflika for years until the president’s February announcement that he would run for re-election sparked unprecedented demonstrations.
In early April, Gaid Salah called on his boss to resign. Bouteflika quit the same day, leaving the armed forces chief effectively in charge of the North African country.
Gaid Salah defied protesters by pressing on with a presidential vote on December 12. It was won by establishment insider Abdelmadjid Tebboune who was seen as close to the armed forces chief.
The army chief had categorially rejected the youth-led protest movement’s key demands: deep reforms, the establishment of transitional institutions and the dismantling of the military-dominated regime.
Former prime minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune was sworn in as the new president of protest-hit Algeria on Thursday, a week after winning a widely boycotted election.
He succeeds veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced from office in April in the face of mass demonstrations.
Tebboune must now address the grievances of the protesters, who have remained on the streets to prevent what they see as a ploy by the political elite to retain its hold on power.
The 74-year-old is seen as close to the armed forces chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has been the North African country’s effective ruler since Bouteflika quit.
He and other top brass attended the swearing-in ceremony alongside Tebboune’s defeated rivals for the presidency.
While Tebboune’s period as prime minister ended with his sacking by Bouteflika, protesters see the longtime regime insider as part of the same corrupt system that has ruled Algeria since independence in 1962 — a system they want dismantled.
Following his election, Tebboune vowed to “extend my hand to the Hirak (protest movement) for a dialogue”, appoint young ministers and push for a new constitution.
Demonstrators responded by hitting the streets once again, calling Tebboune “illegitimate”.
The country’s grinding political crisis may be exacerbated by its economic situation.
Algeria is heavily dependent on oil exports and its budget has been hard hit by low crude prices, which could force Tebboune to take unpopular decisions.
Students, teachers and other demonstrators rallied in their thousands in Algeria’s capital Tuesday against the newly elected president, rejecting his offer of dialogue with a months-old protest movement.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune won 58.1 percent of the vote in Thursday’s election, according to official results, and on Friday said he was ready for talks to “build a new Algeria”.
But protesters, long opposed to an election they saw as a ploy by the establishment to consolidate power after ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned under popular pressure in April, remained defiant.
Shouts of “The election was fixed! It wasn’t legitimate! The march will continue!” filled the air in Algiers during the first weekly rally since the poll, an AFP journalist said.
Security forces were heavily deployed, but there were no confrontations between them and demonstrators.
“Tebboune will not govern us!” protesters shouted, vowing to keep the poll winner from taking up residence at the presidential palace.
He is set to be sworn in during a ceremony in Algiers on Thursday, the presidency said.
The protest movement has rocked Algeria since February, initially demanding Bouteflika step down then pushing for the remnants of his regime to make way for new, independent institutions.
Turnout in the election was 39.9 percent, according to the constitutional council.
All five candidates had links to Bouteflika, who ruled for two decades despite suffering a debilitating stroke in 2013.
Tebboune is also seen as close to army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who became the country’s de facto strongman following Bouteflika’s departure.
A former Algerian prime minister who served under deposed leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected president of the protest-wracked country after a vote marred by unrest and low turnout, results showed Friday.
Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 74, took 58.15 percent of the vote, trouncing his four fellow contenders without the need for a second-round runoff, electoral commission chairman Mohamed Charfi announced.
Like him, they all served under the two-decade rule of Bouteflika, 82, who resigned in the face of mass demonstrations in April.
The deeply unpopular election had been championed by the army as a way of restoring stability after almost 10 months of street protests.
But on polling day Thursday, protesters defied a heavy police presence to hold a mass rally in the heart of the capital Algiers and smaller demonstrations in provincial cities.
All five candidates — who included another former prime minister, Ali Benflis, 75, and an ex-minister, Azzedine Mihoubi — were widely rejected by protesters as “children of the regime”.
Algerians awaited the outcome Friday of a widely unpopular presidential election marred by attacks on polling stations and the lowest turnout in the country’s history.
The election had been championed by the army as a way of restoring stability almost 10 months into a protest movement that in April ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, after two decades in office.
But on polling day Thursday, protesters defied a heavy police presence to hold a mass rally in the heart of the capital Algiers and smaller demonstrations in provincial cities.
The electoral authority said its chairman Mohamed Charfi would release the results at 11 am (1000 GMT), an announcement that could prompt tens of thousands of election opponents to pour out onto the streets in new protests.
All five of the candidates in Thursday’s vote were widely rejected by protesters as “children of the regime”.
Among them are two of the ousted leader’s former prime ministers — Abdelmajid Tebboune, 74, and Ali Benflis, 75 — and a former minister, Azzedine Mihoubi.
If none of the five hopefuls wins a majority, Algerians will be asked to return to the polls on a date still to be set between December 31 and January 9 for a second-round runoff that could trigger further unrest.
No exit polls were published but a spokesman for Tebboune said his candidate had won an outright majority.
Turnout at record low
On Thursday, a record six in 10 Algerians abstained, Charfi said, the highest rate for a multi-party election since independence from France in 1962.
Tens of thousands rallied in central Algiers, where police with water cannon and helicopters tried to disperse protesters.
“The people want independence,” demonstrators chanted after breaking through a police cordon and filling the streets outside the Central Post Office, their rallying point through more than 40 weeks of protest.
AFP reporters saw a group storming a polling station in the capital, suspending voting there for about half an hour before police pushed them out again.
Late in the afternoon, an AFP reporter saw police using baton charges to disperse remaining protesters.
After dark, witnesses reported ongoing scuffles between police and protesters in the Belouizdad neighbourhood close to the city centre.
In the mountain region of Kabylie, home to much of the country’s Berber minority and historically opposed to the central government, protesters ransacked polling stations and clashed with police, residents said.
In the city of Bejaia, two polling stations were attacked. In Tizi Ouzou, security forces fired teargas to disperse a crowd who had surrounded a government building, triggering a standoff into the night in which several people were wounded.
‘Mired in crisis’
In central Algiers, young protesters slammed those casting their ballots as “traitors of the nation”.
That earned a sharp rebuke from one man in his 80s: “I fought for the right to vote, so I’m voting for my country.”
Other voters said they had turned out because after nearly a year of turmoil it was time for a return to stability.
“I am voting because I am afraid that the country will get mired in the crisis,” said Karim, a 28-year-old civil servant.
Sid Ali, a 48-year-old merchant in Algiers, said: “I support the Hirak (protest) movement but it needs to end. I lost 70 percent of my turnover and many traders are in my situation.”
‘No to the system’
Whoever wins will struggle to be accepted by the electorate in the North African country, where many citizens see the government as inept, corrupt and unable to manage the flagging economy.
The “Hirak” street movement kicked off when Bouteflika announced in February that he would seek a fifth term in office.
Protesters have stayed on the streets ever since, demanding the total dismantling of the system that has ruled Algeria since independence.
The military high command, which long wielded power from the shadows, has been forced to take a more visible role and has pushed for the election as a way to withdraw behind the scenes again.
Demonstrators have vented their anger at army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who has emerged as Algeria’s de facto strongman since Bouteflika stepped down.
A previous poll set for July was scrapped for lack of viable candidates and interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s term technically ended five months ago.