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Algerians protest in thousands to reject talks with new president

Update: December, 18/2019 - 11:26


Algerian anti-government protesters chant slogans as they gather with national flags during a mass demonstration in the centre of the Algerian capital Algiers on Tuesday. — AFP Photo

ALGIERS — Students, teachers and other demonstrators rallied in their thousands in Algeria's capital on Tuesday against the newly elected president, rejecting his offer of dialogue with a months-old protest movement.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune won 58.1 per cent of the vote in the December 12 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.

Chants 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 with 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 tomorrow, 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 per cent, according to the constitutional council.

French 'congratulations'

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday congratulated Tebboune on his victory, the official APS news agency said, citing a statement by the Algerian presidency.

Macron called the president-elect to offer his "warm congratulations", according to the statement.

In an initial reaction on Friday, the French president said he had "taken note" of the election result.

A statement from the Elysee presidential palace on Tuesday said Macron assured his Algerian counterpart that "France stands by Algeria's side at this important moment in its history".

It made no reference to "warm congratulations", but said Macron offered "sincere wishes for success".

All five candidates in the election 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.

Protesters, who have rallied every week since February 22 to demand far-reaching reforms, staged particularly large demonstrations to mark the vote, with tens of thousands flooding the streets of Algiers.

Those demonstrations mostly passed off peacefully, but a rights group said on Tuesday that several protesters sustained eye injuries when security forces used rubber bullets.

"The toll is still provisional, but there are about ten injured," stated Said Salhi, deputy head of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), referring to events that took place on December 11-12 in various cities.

"Some are still hospitalised... and some have lost their eyes for good."

Most of the incidents took place in areas where protesters clashed with security forces, such as the Berber-majority Kabylie region, where the unrest disrupted voting. — AFP


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