Algerian protests, in 12th week, demand release of opposition leader


Thousands of Algerians demonstrated in the capital last Friday, the 12th straight week of anti-government rallies and demanded the release of opposition leader Louisa Hanoune from prison.

On Thursday, prosecutors at a military court in Algiers ordered the temporary incarceration of Hanoune, the head of the leftist Workers' Party, on unknown charges, her party said. So far, there has been no official confirmation of her arrest. The 65-year-old politician was an outspoken critic of former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to resign last month.

Demonstrators on Friday rallied at the Central Post square, a focal point of the weekly protests in the capital. They demanded Hanoune be released, or put on trial at a civil court if there were specific charges against her.

"I oppose Louisa Hanoune's political stances. But this does not mean she faces a military trial without the public knowing what charges are filed against her," Maysoum Ait, a protester, told journalists.

Algeria's oldest opposition party, the Socialist Forces Front, condemned Hanoune's reported detention, calling it "an arbitrary act."

Algeria's official news agency APS reported that the military court had summoned Hanoune on Thursday in connection with ongoing investigations into three key allies of Bouteflika, including his younger brother.

Weeks of street protests and pressure from the influential military forced Bouteflika to step down last month after he had governed the energy-rich North African country for 20 years. Since then, demonstrations have continued to pressure key Bouteflika-era officials into stepping down, including interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

Bensalah has set presidential elections for 4 July. Last Friday, protesters voiced their opposition to holding the polls as scheduled while Bensalah and Bedoui are in power.

"By God, we will not vote until they all depart," some demonstrators chanted in central Algiers. "There will be no elections, oh gang!" they added, addressing the Bouteflika loyalists still in power.

Friday's rallies come days after the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, during which observant Muslins abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. Some demonstrators expressed determination to continue anti-government protests during Ramadan.

"Street protests will not be affected by Ramadan fatigue or authorities ignoring public demands. We will not stop until corrupt bosses go," said Isma Filali, a 23-year-old protester.

Similar marches took place in other parts of the country, reported Algeria media, which dubbed the rallies the "Friday of Steadfastness."    (dpa)

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