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Protesters march against December general elections in Algeria4 minutes read

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Protesters march against December general elections in Algeria
Algerian protesters shout slogans during a protest march in Algiers, Algeria, 26 November 2019. (Photo by Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto)

Algerians are due to elect a new president next month but a huge protest movement bitterly rejects the vote, fearing it will usher in politicians loyal to the old guard.

Candidates have been loudly heckled during campaign events and their posters defaced. Protesters have been marching weekly for the past 9 months to demand that the December 12 election does not entrench a political elite with ties to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit in April when confronted by a wave of people power.

Now the public rejection of the looming election threatens to worsen already deep divisions in the country.

The protesters fear that a regime in power since 1962 in the country is seeking to reconstitute itself in the vote, despite 40 weeks of persistent demonstrations led by the so-called “Hirak” movement.

The ailing Bouteflika was forced to resign after 20 years in power when mass demonstrations erupted in February against his bid for a fifth term.

Protesters march against December general elections in Algeria
Algerian protesters shout slogans during a protest march in Algiers, Algeria, 26 November 2019. (Photo by Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto)

But the five candidates seeking to replace him all either supported the former leader or participated in his government, and all have been the target of the protesters’ hostility.

Former prime ministers Ali Benflis, 75, and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 73, are considered frontrunners.

Also contesting is Azzedine Mihoubi, head of the Democratic National Rally party, the main ally of Bouteflika’s party.

Bringing up the rear are former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina, whose party backed Bouteflika, and Abdelaziz Belaid, a member of a youth organisation that also supported him.

Since campaigning began on November 17, the candidates have avoided making appearances in the large cities of the coastal north, and often announce public meetings at the last minute.

This has not stopped them from being greeted by jeering demonstrators who sometimes also manage to disrupt campaign meetings, despite a hefty security presence.

Read: Algeria’s interim President announces elections on December 12

Protesters see the candidates as accomplices to the military high command, which since Bouteflika’s resignation has assumed de facto power.

Powerful army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah has emerged as Algeria’s main post-Bouteflika kingmaker.

Candidates speaking at the sparsely attended rallies have struggled to demonstrate their understanding of Hirak’s demands.

Above all, they face an uphill battle to convince people to vote on December 12 in a country where abstention is viewed as the only way to challenge an entrenched system.

Official figures showed 37 per cent of the electorate voted in 2017 legislative polls and 50 per cent in the 2014 presidential election.

But observers say that even those turnout numbers were probably inflated.

Analyst Louisa Dris-Ait Hamadouche told journalists that previous elections were held amid general indifference with a known voter base, mostly supporters of Bouteflika’s long-ruling National Liberation Front and its allies.

Protesters march against December general elections in Algeria
Algerian protesters shout slogans during a protest march in Algiers, Algeria, 26 November 2019. (Photo by Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto)

“Now indifference has given way to active protest,” the political science professor at the University of Algiers said.

An election planned for July 4 was postponed over a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a constitutional crisis as interim president Abdelkader Bensalah’s mandate expired that month.

Military-backed authorities are now determined to end the crisis as quickly as possible.

General Gaid Salah insists that December’s vote enjoys popular backing, citing “spontaneous” small marches of support but ignoring the hostile slogans chanted weekly at huge Hirak rallies.

The protesters remain adamant. 

Across the country, election posters are ripped down or painted over with pictures of full rubbish bags or imprisoned Hirak figures.

People are doing everything they can to stop this election. They are trying to force those in power to retreat or for the candidates to withdraw,” said Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, a leading group in the Hirak movement. But Algerian academic Mohamed Hennad predicted that the country’s power brokers will organise their election, come what may, even if it means a low turnout.

As polling day edges closer, positions are hardening with fears that both sides could adopt more radical measures.

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Nigeria reopens economy, worship centres as flights resume June 21

A News Central investigation showed that the government had barely no choice than to drastically reopen the economy as most Nigerians were already violating the lockdown measures and the police seemed to have lost control of enforcement.

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File photo of President Muhammadu Buhari in an address at the State House, Abuja.

The Nigerian government on Monday further announced the relaxing of Covid-19 lockdown that has shuttered the economy for more than two months.

Under the phase two reopening, the ban on the banking sector, religious gatherings and closure of markets were lifted with the earlier national curfew revised between 10pm to 4am, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 announced Monday at a briefing in the capital, Abuja.

A News Central investigation showed that the government had barely no choice than to drastically reopen the economy as most Nigerians were violating the lockdown measures with the connivance of some sections of security agencies like the police who were mostly being bribed by commuters and drivers to pass through checkpoints on interstate highways despite the ban on interstate travel.

Most small businesses and worship centres in suburbs of state capitals including the nation’s capital, Abuja were also operating unhindered in what seemed like the authorities had lost control of the lockdown, residents said. The rule on compulsory use of facemask was also being violated as many refused to use such measures except after sighting policemen or local taskforce operatives.

Cabinet Secretary, Boss Mustapha who heads the Taskforce said President Muhammadu Buhari had also approved that domestic flights should resume on June 21 and directed airlines to take between 50 and 70 per cent of passengers on any flight.

The PTF said the aircraft of most airlines were currently being serviced in preparation for the June 21 resumption date for domestic flights.

– Local flights to resume –

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika at the briefing also said the airfares of flights would be proportionate to the current global realities facing the aviation industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The modality of operations by airlines and the passenger numbers will certainly drop and the load factor will also drop. Only 50 or 70 per cent of the passengers should be taken. These are some of the things that we have been looking at”, Sirika announced.

Sirika said the three-week period between June 1 and the resumption date would enable operators to adhere to all the necessary industry regulations, without which they would not take to the skies after being dormant for some time.

“This is because aviation, unlike other sectors, is a highly regulated sector,” he said.

The minister said consultations had been on and would continue between the ministry and industry stakeholders on the best ways to operate profitably while at the same time ensuring the safety of travellers.

Sirika had earlier cautioned owners of private aircraft who had been in the habit of asking for permits to fly within the country despite the restrictions in place to desist, as the restrictions were still in place, except for those on essential services.

Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu at a national briefing of the PTF on Covid-19 in Abuja. Twitter/@NCDCgov

– Banks, markets reopen –

National Coordinator of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Aliyu Sani said the full reopening of the financial sector, restricted opening of worship centres will be granted by the 36 states and capital, Abuja subject to the PTF guidelines.

The announcement injected a new lease of life into big businesses and SMEs that had remained shut over the months.

Banks were given immediate clearance to operate fully. Hotels got the nod to reopen “but must observe all mandatory non-pharmaceutical intervention”.

“The goal of phase two over the next four weeks is to balance public safety with protecting livelihoods as well as allowing the full restoration of economic activities across the country”, Sani said.

“We are not opening places of worships across the board. We are saying that opening is conditional and it is based on these clear-cut guidelines and would only cover regular church and mosque services.

“The nationwide curfew will remain in place but the timing of this will be reduced to 10pm to 4am. The purpose of the curfew is to limit social interactions and therefore reduce the risk of transmission of the virus”, Dr Sani said.

The government also announced that “all interstate travels by individuals remain prohibited except for essential travels and the movement of goods and services. All restrictions on the free movement of goods and services is now removed in this phase.”

– Not yet uhuru on Covid-19 fight –

Despite the new relaxation of Covid-19 lockdown rules, the government said it was “still safer to stay at home and avoid crowds. The pandemic is not over in this country and the relaxation of some of the rules doesn’t mean that it is safer to go out. If you do not need to go out please continue to stay at home.”

“The mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of the work place or places of worship remains prohibited. In terms of general movement, persons may go out for work, go to buy necessary food and for exercise provided that they abide by the curfew hours”, officials announced.

Schools however remain closed as the federal authorities said they were yet to reach a decision on the matter but made some concessions.

“The Federal Ministry of Education has been instructed to work with school owners to prepare students that require exiting exams to allow them to take exams early in the next phase of the lifting of the lockdown”, PTF’s Sani said.


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UN condemns use of IEDs against civilians in Libya

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians…,” the UN said.

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A man inspects the wreckage of a car outside the Khadra General Hospital which is dedicated to treating people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Libyan capital Tripoli on April 8, 2020, after it was targeted by forces loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the use of improvised explosive devices against civilians in the southern part of Tripoli, as the armed conflict between the east-based army and the UN-backed government continues.

UNSMIL “is extremely concerned about reports that residents of the Ain Zara and Salahuddin areas of Tripoli have been killed or wounded by improvised explosive devices placed in or near their homes,” UNSMIL said in a statement Monday.

“UNSMIL strongly condemns these acts, which serve no military objective, provoke extreme fear among the population, and violate the rights of innocent civilians who must be protected under international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

UNSMIL called on all individuals to “seek information and heed security advice to stay away from areas that have not been declared safe to enter by a competent authority or items of unknown origin which may be explosive devices”.

UNSMIL also commended the search and clearance work by Libyan Police and Military Engineers, reaffirming its continued support to Libyan partners, communities, and stakeholders “who are working tirelessly to rid Libya of the threat of explosive remnant of war (ERW)”.

The UN-backed government’s forces accused the rival east-based army of planting mines before withdrawing from conflict areas in southern Tripoli.

Since April 2019, the east-based army has been leading a military campaign attempting to take over Tripoli and topple the UN-backed government.

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Strike looms as public sector wage dispute enters arbitration in South Africa

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The ongoing face-off between workers in the public sector and the South African government continues. According to the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), disagreement between the trade unions and government has moved the talks to arbitration for further hearing.

PSCBC General Secretary, Frikkie De Bruin explains that the arbitration hearings will begin by mid-June. An arbitrator will issue an award after the hearings are complete, with the matter potentially heading to court or resulting in a strike if the unions aren’t happy.

Ordinarily, public sector workers make up a third of South Africa’s expenditure. But with the coronavirus lockdown and income reduction, Pretoria seems unwilling to incur more debt.

If not handled carefully to appease the workers, the ruling African National Congress, (ANC) could lose its political dominance in the next local elections.

If no resolution is reached and the workers decide to resolve it an industrial action, it could erode all effort made by the government in the fight against the coronavirus.

The dispute started in February when the government affirmed that it could not fulfil its 2018 agreement on a three-year wage agreement.

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