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AFP
December 14, 2019

Bouteflika-era PM elected president of protest-hit Algeria

World

AFP
December 14, 2019

ALGIERS: A former Algerian prime minister who served under deposed leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected president of the protest-wracked country after a vote marred by unrest and low turnout, results showed on Friday.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 74, took 58.15 percent of the vote, trouncing his four fellow contenders without the need for a second-round runoff, electoral commission chairman Mohamed Charfi announced.

Like him, they all served under the two-decade rule of Bouteflika, 82, who resigned in the face of mass demonstrations in April.

The deeply unpopular election had been championed by the army as a way of restoring stability after almost 10 months of street protests. But on polling day on Thursday, protesters defied a heavy police presence to hold a mass rally in the heart of the capital Algiers and smaller demonstrations in provincial cities.

All five candidates -- who included another former prime minister, Ali Benflis, 75, and an ex-minister, Azzedine Mihoubi -- were widely rejected by protesters as "children of the regime". On Thursday, a record six in 10 Algerians abstained, Charfi said, the highest rate for a multi-party election since independence from France in 1962.

Tens of thousands rallied in central Algiers, where police with water cannon and helicopters tried to disperse protesters. "The people want independence," demonstrators chanted after breaking through a police cordon and filling the streets outside the Central Post Office, their rallying point through more than 40 weeks of protest.

AFP reporters saw a group storming a polling station in the capital, suspending voting there for about half an hour before police pushed them out again. Late in the afternoon, an AFP reporter saw police using baton charges to disperse remaining protesters.

After dark, witnesses reported ongoing scuffles between police and protesters in the Belouizdad neighbourhood close to the city centre. In the mountain region of Kabylie, home to much of the country’s Berber minority and historically opposed to the central government, protesters ransacked polling stations and clashed with police, residents said.

In the city of Bejaia, two polling stations were attacked. In Tizi Ouzou, security forces fired teargas to disperse a crowd who had surrounded a government building, triggering a standoff into the night in which several people were wounded.

In central Algiers, young protesters slammed those casting their ballots as "traitors of the nation". That earned a sharp rebuke from one man in his 80s: "I fought for the right to vote, so I’m voting for my country."

Other voters said they had turned out because after nearly a year of turmoil it was time for a return to stability. "I am voting because I am afraid that the country will get mired in the crisis," said Karim, a 28-year-old civil servant.