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Algerian students reject the announcement of early elections

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RYAD KRAMDI/AFP or licensors -

Algeria

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Thursday issued a decree setting June 12 for early legislative elections, after dissolving parliament last month.

Thousands demonstrated in Algiers on Friday, rejecting the early legislative elections announced the day before, as weekly rallies by the resurgent Hirak pro-democracy movement gain momentum.

"To safeguard itself, the system says: legislative (elections)," one poster read Friday.

Protesters defied a coronavirus-related ban on gatherings to rally from different parts of the capital, converging on the central post office, the Hirak movement's emblematic rallying point, AFP correspondents said.

Demonstrators shouted slogans including "No elections with mafia gangs" and "a civil not a military state", a key Hirak slogan.

Maassoum, a 22-year-old male student, expressed his position.

"Our fight is clear, it is against the current power. They have dismissed the people, so we are dismissing them in our turn. These elections do not concern me, I will not vote under these conditions, I will not vote as long as this power is in place. I will vote when we have the rule of law, I will vote when my voice really counts because for the moment it is not the case."

Another student, Chawki, student, echoed a similar sentiment.

"We have been demonstrating for two years and we will continue to do so to show that we are committed to our demands which are: a free press, independent justice and obtaining the independence that our martyrs dreamt of. The most important thing is to have civil and non-military power as well as the application of articles 7 and 8 (of the Algerian Constitution)."

The 25-year-old man continued firmly leaving no doubt about his resolution.

"Their election is not legitimate. They want a new parliament to calm the anger in the streets. We are against the legislative elections organised by Goudjil (Salah Goudjil, Leader of the Senate). We ask for all the symbols of the system to leave, without any exception. We hold on to this demand, we will not stop until it is met."

Background and Context

The Hirak movement broke out in February 2019 in outrage at then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the movement continued with demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962.

Since its second anniversary on February 22, the Hirak has restarted weekly Friday protests, suspended for almost a year due to the pandemic.

"The same system is still in place. We will not vote on June 12," M'Hamed, a 50-year-old shopkeeper who only gave his first name, told AFP from the protest.

People also took to the streets in other parts of the country, including northwestern Oran, central Tizi Ouzou and eastern Annaba.

The CNLD prisoners' rights group said protesters had been arrested in Tizi Ouzou, without providing further details.

Several journalists and a woman activist were also assaulted by a group of thugs locally known as "baltaguis" who operate on behalf of the authorities, the CNLD said.

Protesters verbally abused another group of journalists, including a crew from news channel France 24, an AFP reporter said.

Once a premier under Bouteflika and elected in a widely boycotted presidential poll in December 2019, Tebboune has reached out to the protest movement while also seeking to neutralise it.

In a gesture of appeasement, last month he announced pardons for dozens of jailed pro-democracy activists, including several prominent figures.

Tebboune has pledged that the June elections will be free of corruption and will "open the doors of parliament to young people".

A constitutional referendum in November saw record-low participation.

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