10 April 2014

Algeria: Violence Mars Algeria Campaign

Photo: Facebook/Ali Benflis
Electoral campaign in Algeria

Algiers — Several acts of violence marred Algeria's presidential election campaign over the last week, as voters prepare to head to the polls April 17th.

In Bouira, a representative of Ali Benflis, a serious rival to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was prevented from holding a public meeting at a cinema on Tuesday (April 8th) by a group of campaigners.

That followed an incident last Saturday, when protesters in Bejaia raided a community arts centre that was supposed to host a meeting led by Abdelmalek Sellal, who was forced to call off the event. Damage to the building was estimated at 100 million dinars, according to APS.

Despite the condemnations that followed the acts of violence in Bejaia, where journalists from the private TV channel Ennahar and law enforcement officers were injured, young people ran into the street in Metlili, Ghardaia at the end of a Wednesday meeting staged by Sellal. Scuffles between youths and law enforcement officers ensued.

The young demonstrators accused Sellal of failing to keep promises to improve living standards that he made while serving as prime minister.

The journalists accompanying Sellal's team to Ghardaia were targeted by the angry youths and had to remain inside the sports hall where the meeting was held for an hour before being evacuated under guard. During the meeting, which lasted for about twenty minutes, Sellal said that Bouteflika promised to turn the area into a "real hotbed of economic development".

"If you renew your faith in our candidate, Bouteflika, on 17 April, I promise you that the socio-economic problems will be solved," Sellal told those present.

On April 8th, the cities of Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia saw protests staged by students opposed to the presidential election and a fourth term for Bouteflika.

In response to these acts, Bouteflika's campaign manager said that he was opposed to exclusion and stated that "extremism has no place in this country".

The violence was unanimously condemned by the candidates or their representatives. Benflis lamented the clashes and said that while he supported freedom of expression, violence made the situation worse and did nothing to resolve it.

While in Blida, Moussa Touati, the president of the Algerian National Front (FNA), another candidate, condemned the use of violence as a way of asserting ideas. "I regret the incidents that occurred in Bejaia because they undermine democracy and the freedom of the press in Algeria," he said.

"What did these journalists do to deserve to be attacked in Bejaia?" he asked. Those responsible for the violence "will not prevent President Bouteflika from standing for re-election by attacking the press", Touati added.

While holding a meeting in support of Bouteflika in M'sila, Abdelaziz Belkhadem said in reference to the incidents that democracy "does not mean preventing a candidate from conducting his election campaign".

Many citizens also disapproved of the use of force to express political opinions.

"Whether one is against an election or a candidate, this is in the natural order of things, but stirring up trouble and disturbing the peace is unacceptable," teacher Rachid Laoufi said indignantly. "And it does nothing to help democracy."

Ali Azzoug, a shopkeeper who admitted that he was not very interested in politics, said that he took exception to those who "seek to impose their political decisions through force. That takes us back to the 1990s and the suffering that we endured".

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