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July 6, 2019

Algeria’s ex-police chief detained in corruption probeThousands protest in Algerian capital, break police cordon


July 6, 2019

ALGIERS: Around 2,000 people protested in the Algerian capital against the interim government on Friday, defying a significant police presence just days before the mandate of its president expires, witnesses said.

Dozens of police vans were stationed near the main post office, a symbolic building for the protest movement now in its 20th week, an AFP journalist reported.

Ranks of police officers wearing helmets and equipped with shields tried to block the protesters and confine them to a pavement around 10 metres from the post office esplanade. But amid shouts of "Long live Algeria! Peacefully, our claims are legitimate!", hundreds of the protesters successfully forced their way through the police cordon and headed for the esplanade.

Around a dozen protesters were arrested and placed in police vans, witnesses said. Mass protests forced longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign in early April, but demonstrators have kept up the pressure, calling for other regime insiders to step aside and demanding independent institutions be established to oversee fresh elections.

"Go, liberate Algeria!", shouted the protesters, waving the national flag. Other chants glorified the martyrs of Algeria’s war of independence, on what is the country’s independence day.

The protest comes two days after interim President Abdelkader Bensalah called for a national dialogue, in which he promised the state and army would remain neutral.

Bensalah’s mandate is due to expire on Tuesday and he warned on Wednesday against the risk of the country falling into a constitutional vacuum.

"Wherever you are, we are - we will not stop!" the protesters shouted, referring to the government. They chanted slogans against any elections organised by a "mafia gang".

Meanwhile, Algeria’s former police chief Abdelghani Hamel has been placed in provisional detention over alleged "diversion of funds and illicit enrichment", state television said on Friday.

Hamel, who was fired in June last year, appeared before an investigating magistrate in central Algiers, it said. Two of Hamel’s sons were also detained overnight, while his wife was provisionally released in the same case, state television reported.

In total, the examining magistrate will question 19 people in the case, including ex-civil servants and real estate agents, according to the official APS news agency. Former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to fire Hamel last year came as a surprise, since he had been viewed at the time by analysts and the Algerian press as a potential successor.

Hamel was fired due to a cocaine trafficking scandal, which tarnished numerous officials including magistrates. The ailing Bouteflika was himself forced to step down on April 2, after weeks of street protests against his two-decade rule.

But protests have continued, demanding the fall of other regime insiders and the establishment of independent institutions ahead of credible elections. Algeria’s legal system has launched a series of probes into corruption and embezzlement, targeting state officials and powerful businessmen close to the ex-president.

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