Algeria’s Crack-Down on Protesters as Polls Begin
After Amnesty International accused the authorities in Algeria of silencing critics and stepping up curbs on freedom of expression before the presidential election to be held later this week, Human Rights Watch has also reported that Algerian authorities are now deploying large numbers of police and arresting protesters to prevent demonstrations in the capital in advance of today’s presidential elections. The government officials have recently targeted a movement that has been increasingly vocal in their opposition to a fourth term for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
In early March, security forces in the capital city Algiers forcibly dispersed followers of “the Barakat (Enough) movement” who gathered to express their opposition to a fourth mandate for Bouteflika, the incumbent since 1999. While attempting to prevent the supporters of the movement to access the protest site, the security forces also confronted protesters who managed to reach the site and started to wave banners and chant slogans. Since banning demonstrations in the capital city, authorities have repeatedly prevented or reined in demonstrations and marches whose objective was considered controversial.
Polling opened in Algeria on Thursday morning following a campaign marked by the absence of incumbent ailing Abdelaziz Bouteflika who spent three months in a French military hospital last year following a stroke. With Bouteflika’s speech capacity and mobility reportedly impaired, the president made no public appearances during the campaign, with his lieutenants addressing rallies in his place. Fears of corruption and fraud hang over the vote, with Bouteflika’s main rival, Ali Benflis, declaring that his “main opponent will be fraud” and has threatened to expose any cases he uncovers. Benflis, 69, who ran Bouteflika’s first election campaign in 1999 and was prime minister between 2000 and 2003 before being fired, ran in 2004, winning only 6.42 per cent of the vote.