Hundreds of Algerians marched against an election called for December, chanting “we will not vote until the regime men are removed”.
The planned vote set up a new phase in the showdown between protesters and the state. Mass protests started in February, forcing veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to stand down in April and continued every week since then to demand a thorough purging of the ruling elite.
During the spring and summer, government detained senior figures on corruption charges. It also put more pressure on protesters, arresting opposition leaders and deploying more police at demonstrations.
Powerful army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Saleh pushed for an election for months, saying it is the only way out and on Sunday interim president Abdelkader Ben Salah said it would take place in December.
Since Bouteflika’s resignation, fewer people attended weekly protests on Tuesday and Fridays, but those marching reject any election at present, saying there will not be a fair vote while the old guard retains power.
Whether Sunday’s announcement of a presidential election and the heavier police presence at demonstrations will quell protests or reignite them should become clear during marches in the coming weeks.
Protesters on Tuesday chanted “We will not stop our protests” and “civilian state, no military state” and demanded the resignation of both Ben Salah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.
Two former prime ministers, two former intelligence chiefs, eight ministers and prominent businessmen are in custody after being questioned by judges as part of anti-graft investigations.
Prominent opposition figures, Karim Tabou and Lakhdar Bouragaa, were also detained recently on charges of “contributing to weakening the army’s morale”.
Samir Belarbi, a well-known activist, was detained on Monday, two lawyers said, though there was no official confirmation from the justice ministry.