Algeria’s New Prime Minister Pledges To Regain Trust

This screen grab taken from Algerie 3 official television station on December 28, 2019, shows the newly appointed Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad speaking after a meeting with the president in the capital Algiers. AFP

 

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.

AFP

Algeria’s Army Chief, Gaid Salah Dies

 

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 19, 2019 Lieutenant general Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algerian armed forces chief, attends the formal presidential swearing-in ceremony in the capital Algiers. Algeria’s powerful army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah died, state TV said on December 23, 2019.
RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

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.

AFP

Algeria Swears In New President Despite Protests

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune waves during the formal swearing-in ceremony in the capital Algiers on December 19, 2019. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

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.

 

AFP

Algerians Protest Against Newly Elected President

People gather for a mass anti-government demonstration in the centre of the Algerian capital Algiers on December 17, 2019. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

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.

 

AFP

Former Prime Minister Wins ‘Unpopular’ Algeria Election

In this file photo taken on November 24, 2019 Algerian presidential candidate Abdelmadjid Tebboune attends a forum at the headquarters of al-Hiwar newspaper in the capital Algiers. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

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”.

 

AFP

Algerians Await Outcome Of Election Marred By Violence, Low Turnout

An Algerian woman chants slogans as she takes part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on December 12, 2019 during the presidential election. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

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.

 

AFP

Protesters Storm Polling Station In Algeria

Algerian security forces surround protesters staging an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers on December 12, 2019 on the day of the presidential election.  AFP

 

Algerian anti-government protesters stormed a polling station in central Algiers on Thursday, forcing a half-hour suspension of voting there, an AFP journalist witnessed.

The North African country is holding a presidential election meant to end a months-long political crisis, but the poll has been marred by new mass protests and attempts to disrupt voting.

AFP

Two Algeria Ex-PMs Get Heavy Jail Terms In Graft Trial

 

An Algerian court sentenced two former prime ministers to long jail terms Tuesday in the first of a string of high-profile corruption trials launched after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests in April.

Ahmed Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12, the state-run APS news agency reported. A former industry minister, Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is on the run abroad, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years, it added.

Three Sentenced To Prison Over Algeria Concert Stampede Deaths

Man Bags 15 Years In Prison For N5.2m Fraud

 

An Algerian court has handed three people prison sentences for “negligence” over a deadly stampede at an August concert, a judicial source told AFP Thursday.

Five people aged between 13 and 22 were killed and more than 80 injured on August 22 when fans thronged an entrance of a stadium in Algiers where France-based rapper Soolking was performing.

Samy Benchikh, the former head of Algeria’s public body for organising concerts, was sentenced to six months in prison, with three months suspended, a judicial source said on condition of anonymity.

The manager of a ticket company was handed six months in jail with four months suspended, and the same sentence was handed to the head of the company handling security at the event.

All three were charged with “negligence” after the court dropped manslaughter charges, the judicial source added.

Eleven security guards also on trial were released.

The incident forced culture minister Meriem Merdaci to resign and led to the sacking of Benchikh and Algeria’s police chief, Abdelkader Kara Bouhadba.

Soolking, 29, is a major star in Algeria, and his song “La Liberte” (Freedom) became a mainstay of the anti-government protest movement that has swept Algeria since February.

The choice of the August-20 stadium, one of the country’s oldest, to host the rapper’s sole planned concert in Algeria since his international career took off in 2018, was heavily criticised, in particular by families of the victims.

The day of the concert, large numbers of spectators were still waiting to enter shortly before the show began, and fears of not being able to enter reportedly sparked the stampede.

Two Ex-PMs Join Race To Replace Ousted Algerian President Bouteflika

(File) Algerian protesters march during an anti-system demonstration in the capital Algiers following the resignation of veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika. AFP photo.

 

 

Five candidates, including two former prime ministers, will run to replace ousted Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the country’s election authority said Saturday, amid widespread protests against the vote.

A total of 23 candidates had submitted their papers to run and five were approved, head of the election authority Mohamed Charfi told reporters in Algiers.

The list will be passed to the constitutional council for final validation.

Former premiers Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune are considered front-runners in an election opposed by the mass protest movement that alongside the army forced Bouteflika to resign in April after 20 years in power.

The other candidates are Azzedine Mihoubi, leader of the Democratic National Rally party (RND) that was part of Bouteflika’s ruling coalition, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the Front El-Moustakbel party.

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Activists are demanding sweeping reforms in the oil-rich country before any vote takes place, and say Bouteflika-era figures still in power must not use the presidential poll to appoint his successor.

Instead of waning when the ageing president stepped down, the protest movement turned its focus on the whole regime, amping up calls for an overhaul of the political system in place since 1962.

Polls planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis, as interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s mandate expired that month.

Despite fierce opposition from the streets, authorities have been pushing forward with presidential elections set for December 12. Observers are predicting a weak turnout.

AFP

Thousands Protest In Algiers Despite Tight Security

Algerian protesters take part in a demonstration against the country’s army chief in Algeria’s capital Algiers on September 20, 2019, as the police toughens its line ahead of December elections.
RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

 

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Algerian capital on Friday in defiance of a heavy security presence to demand the ouster of the country’s army chief.

Demonstrators gathered near the capital’s main post office square — the epicentre of Algeria’s protest movement that forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down in April — this time calling for the removal of General Ahmed Gaid Salah.

“The people want the fall of Gaid Salah,” they chanted, referring to the de facto strongman in post-Bouteflika Algeria.

“Take us all to prison, the people will not stop.”

Friday’s demonstration marked Algeria’s 31st consecutive week of rallies, but protesters faced a heavy deployment of security forces in the city centre and along its main avenues.

The army chief on Wednesday ordered police to block protesters from outside Algiers entering the capital, in a bid to stem the flow of people attending anti-regime rallies.

The tougher line on demonstrations comes after interim president Abdelkader Bensalah on Sunday announced a December 12 date for a presidential election to fill the vacuum left by Bouteflika’s departure.

Gaid Salah has led the push for polls by the end of 2019, despite mass protests demanding political reforms and the removal of the former president’s loyalists — including Gaid Salah himself — before any vote.

 ‘Growing crackdown’ 

In the runup to the rally, police made several arrests near the square, AFP photographers said.

Police also stopped vehicles on main streets in the capital and an AFP journalist saw officers in plainclothes ask numerous people for identity papers, before some were led off to nearby vans.

A police helicopter hovered above, while security forces stopped cars headed towards the centre from Algiers’ southwest entrance.

Activists on social media reported traffic jams stretching “several kilometres” from the entrances of the capital.

Said Salhi, deputy head of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, condemned the heightened security measures as “illegal”.

Demonstrations have officially been banned in Algiers since 2001 but the prohibition had been ignored since rallies started on February 22 against the ailing Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth presidential term.

Presidential polls originally planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis as Bensalah’s 90-day mandate expired the same month.

The army’s high command has rejected any solution to the crisis other than presidential elections “in the shortest possible time”.

On Thursday, Amnesty International slammed the “growing crackdown that has seen dozens of protesters arrested over the past 10 days”.

Heba Morayef, the rights group’s Middle East and North Africa head, said the “resumption of sweeping arbitrary arrests… is a clear indication that the right to freedom of assembly and expression in Algeria is still very much under threat”.

That statement came the same day as former state TV journalist Fodil Boumala was reportedly arrested.

Boumala, a leading figure in the protests, was detained on accusations of “undermining national unity”, and a court on Thursday ordered his pre-trial detention, his lawyer Abdelghani Badi said on Facebook.

He was the third protest movement figure to be detained within a week, following Karim Tabbou late last week and Samir Benlarbi on Tuesday.

AFP

Algeria To Hold Presidential Election On December 12

File Photo: AFP/FAROUK BATICHE

 

Algeria is to hold a presidential election on December 12, five months into a political vacuum since longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests, his interim successor announced Sunday.

“I have decided… that the date of the presidential election will be Thursday, December 12,” said Abdelkader Bensalah, who is precluded from standing himself, in a televised address to the nation.

The announcement comes after army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, seen as Algeria’s strongman since the fall of the ailing Bouteflika, insisted that polls be held by the end of 2019, despite ongoing protests demanding the creation of new institutions ahead of any elections.

On Friday, Algerian protesters returned to the streets after parliament passed bills paving the way for the announcement of elections.

Demonstrators are demanding key regime figures step down and an overhaul of political institutions before any polls, arguing an election under the current framework would only reinforce the status quo.

Gaid Salah earlier this month called for an electoral college to be summoned on September 15 so as to conduct an election within 90 days, in mid-December.

Last week, parliament passed two bills that would facilitate the announcement of a vote.

Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati presented the bills on Wednesday, with both legislative chambers passing them within two days.

Opposition parties in the People’s National Assembly boycotted the session in which the bills were passed.

The first bill proposed the creation of an “independent” election authority, while the second text was a revision of Algeria’s electoral law.

Presidential polls originally planned for July 4 were postponed due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis as the 90-day mandate for Bensalah expired in early July.

The army’s high command has rejected any solution to the crisis other than presidential elections “in the shortest possible time”.