Police struggled Friday to contain thousands of Algerian demonstrators surging through the streets of the capital to protest plans for next month’s presidential election and celebrate the 65th anniversary of the start of Algeria’s war for independence from France.
Waving Algerian and banned Berber flags, demonstrators urged each other to remain peaceful as police tried to push them off sidewalks or clear them out of a central square. It was the 37th such gathering since their pro-democracy movement began in February and changed Algeria’s political landscape .
Thousands of people came from other towns to join the protest in Algiers, some demonstrating peacefully in the streets overnight. In their homes, many residents banged on pots and pans to show support. The visitors then rested with friends or family, or in their cars, and reconvened Friday morning to march through the capital.
The protesters’ anger focuses on the Dec. 12 presidential election, to replace longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika after he was pushed out in April. The pro-democracy protesters fear the vote will be manipulated by the country’s long-despised power structure.
They want an eventual election and brand-new leadership, but don’t want a vote organized by existing authorities, seen as corrupt and out of touch.
“Dump the generals in the garbage!” shouted some demonstrators, referring notably to powerful army chief Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah. Gaid Salah helped push out the previous president, but demonstrators increasingly see him as part of the system they want to change.
The war anniversary drew larger-than-usual crowds to Friday’s protest, where people repeatedly chanted “Independence! Independence!”
The war that began Nov. 1, 1954 over France’s most treasured colony took six years and left scars on the countries’ relations that remain to this day.